January 8, 2009

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Revolutionary Road (R)
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio teach their onetime teen-girl fans about the disappointments of married life in Revolutionary Road, the interesting if depressing movie directed by Sam Mendes.

April (Winslet) and Frank (DiCaprio) meet at a party, each thinking the other is more special and fascinating than they really are. Years later, we see them married and bored, painfully bored, with their Mad Men-ish life — she’s an apron-wearing housewife in the suburbs, he takes the train in to Manhattan to a job writing ad copy. But because they both expected more from life — or maybe April expected more and Frank hoped for more — this boredom seems soul-shaking to them. When April’s dreams of being a stage actress don’t pan out and Frank’s half-hearted affair with an office girl don’t quite fulfill his excitement needs, they latch on to an idea — Paris. They’ll chuck it all and move there; April will work and Frank will find himself. And while they excitedly, desperately cling to this plan, we in the audience shake our heads and think “you poor dumb bastards.”

I find the premise of Revolutionary Road — how people deal with that unexciting part of life that comes after you’re young but before you’re old and what happens when they deal with it poorly — interesting, engrossing even. In fact, it should be fascinating, all small moments and little decisions with consequences that aren’t immediately apparent — the anti-Titanic. But the movie adapts the book (published in 1961) with a very heavy, very stagey hand. I felt at times like I was watching high schoolers perform an even more downbeat version of Death of a Salesman, one that had been sexed up a little and given a really big costume and set budget. There is something very dialogue-y about the lines April and Frank yell at each other in their fight scenes. I suppose you could chalk that up to the characters — they’re the type of people who would crib from plays instead of thinking of their own put-downs and woe-is-me pronouncements. But that seems a little too clever for a movie that, beneath its score and its wrung out performance by a completely enchanting Winselt (she is always at least twice as good as you think she’s going to be), feels very much like a soap opera.

If you want period clothes and period smoking and lots of angst, Revolutionary Road satisfies you just fine, giving you melodrama while letting you pretend that you’re watching something Important. But if you want actual nuance and commentary on the I-Like-Ike times, well, the first season of Mad Men is available on DVD. B-

Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. Directed by Sam Mendes and written by Justin Haythe (from the novel by Richard Yates), Revolutionary Road is two hours long and is distributed by Paramount Vantage.