' Cinema Romantico: Revolutionary Road

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Revolutionary Road

I recall reading Richard Yates' acclaimed 1961 book with a furious frenzy. It had an arc of inevitable tragedy that I tend to respond to very strongly. The novel took me inside the heads of its main characters, Frank and April Wheeler, a couple, both approaching 30 (as I was at the time), locked away in fifties suburbia where drinking and smoking is as routine as watering the lawn (even while pregnant!), clinging to the notion they are better than the other bland suburbanites around them, desperate to get out, who decide to put their ordinary existence behind them and light out for Paris with their kids in tow before reality, as it must, smacks them upside the head in a lot more ways than one and says, "Nuh uh. You aren't like all the rest."

I loved every page of it. It's why watching Sam Mendes' cinematic version of it was quite painful. It felt so distant, so lifeless. It was way up there on the screen and I was way back here in my seat and I was just watching a couple of people follow their cues, kinda' like the poorly pitiful Laurel Players. What was it? Was it the writing? The direction? The acting?

It took a long time, obviously, to get this book to the big screen and maybe writer Justin Haythe never stood a chance. I didn't realize it on the page but, man, "Revolutionary Road" contains a lot of screaming matches and a lot of screaming matches onscreen begin to feel repetitive even if their point, to some degree, is the repetitiveness. The prose, as stated, gets you inside the heads of the characters but to get inside the heads of the characters of a movie the dialogue has to be different, more restrained, less to the point, and the visuals are required to assist in the journey.

If you didn't know Sam Mendes was the director of "American Beauty" going in, rest assured, when you left the theater you'd be pretty certain he was the guy who helmed that infamous movie about suburbia. It's not just because the musical score for "Revolutionary Road" sounds pretty damn identical (or was I crazy?) but because all the shots are so pristine, so sumptuous, so stagy that they seem to hamper our ability to feel connected anyone. It really feels like they're in 1955 and we're in 2009 and while we could commend the art director for such an accomplishment we must fault the director for failing to connect us with the world he is presenting.

DiCaprio is good as Frank (Frank Wheeler talks a lot to show off what he perceives to be his immense brilliance and Leo's got the right tone for it) and Winslet is okay as April (there are still several moments when she truly rises to Winslet-esque proportions - the phone call, which you'll know when you see, and the split second at the breakfast table near the end when she suddenly tips her hand as it to what is coming so that the audience can see but not Frank) and Michael Shannon offers a fantastically uneasy turn as John Givings, the son of the Frank and April's real estate agent (Kathy Bates) who shows up a couple times to cut through the crap the unhappy couple are peddling but, all in all, these are just performances that are all just technically good.

It's said a movie scene should never be about what it's about and that's true most of the time - though certainly not all of the time - and just about every scene in "Revolutionary Road" is about what it's about so that we....oh, all this just reminds me why I've never seen any of the movie adaptations of "1984".

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