It is a pity that the film, “Revolutionary Road” was released this year when the world is in a financial crisis almost as severe as “The Great Depression.” Had it come out during the economic boom of a few years ago, then the Wheelers of Revolutionary Road, Connecticut, might have aroused some sympathy in us.
As it is, we can’t help feeling that Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) are a couple of spoilt American middle class brats of the Fifties who are simply disenchanted with their marriage. Surprise, surprise, she wants more out of life than a comfortable home and two children and he is bored with his very secure job.
Today as the economic crisis grows, this couple would be envied. People losing their homes and their jobs are bound to be less sympathetic of people who are emotionally unfulfilled, who want to find themselves, as the saying goes. That’s what I meant when I wrote that “Revolutionary Road” has been released at the wrong time.
During the post-war period of the Fifties, jobs were so secure that all the men in Frank’s office in New York city have time to sit around and hardly do any work. In fact, their primary concern is to not be caught loafing when the boss comes around. Frank is one of those unambitious men who found his war service more exciting than his current job in the big company. He is bored and doesn’t want the uneventful life that his father led. But is he prepared to do anything about it?
The film director, Sam Mendes, who is Winslet’s husband in real life, has tried to represent the Fifties by having everyone going around smoking incessantly and wearing Fifties hats to work. The Wheelers have a shiny car in the driveway and Frank says “swell” quite often, but I think that perhaps the Fifties effect might have been more credible had the film been shot in black and white. Kate Winslet, for example, doesn’t look plausible as a Fifties woman. Her appearance is more 21st century. DiCaprio passes for Fifties more convincingly because of his haircut and clothes but I think that Mendes has not succeeded in representing the period as he should have.
In my view, Mendes has chosen a period which is well and truly gone. Nowadays, people can travel wherever they like. They don’t stick to boring jobs for long. They can get abortions and women have more freedom to work outside the home. So it’s hard for the audience to become involved in issues that are in the past. And I don’t believe that “Revolutionary Road” is of any value as a historical documentary because it lacks rapport and authenticity. As entertainment value, it earns zero points.
As for the casting of the two main leads, well, this is not the first time they have appeared together in a film. Winslet and DiCaprio were star-crossed lovers in “Titanic” and I said it then and I will repeat it this time that Winslet looks too old to be DiCaprio’s love interest. He has a perpetually Peter Pan young boy look and the two of them together just don’t gel.
The other actors in the film are quite good but they mostly have cameo roles as the two leads dominate the scene. Even though the film was based on Richard Yates’ novel of the same name, one could have set the entire film on a theatre stage. We are well aware that the other characters act as foils for this couple. They are Fifties archetypes of conformist personalities.
The only character who is different, however, is the son of the real estate agent. He is mentally ill and has just been let out of hospital. His role is that of a Greek chorus, a commentator who explains to the dumb audience what the film is all about- just in case you didn’t get the message, loud and clear, that the Wheelers are not happy with their lot. And, of course, he advises them to be adventurous. Carpe Diem–now there’s a novel idea!
Anyhow, April Wheeler decides that they should go and sell up everything and live in Paris for six months. She believes that it will revive their marriage and Frank thinks her suggestion is “swell.” I suspect that had April lived in the Sixties she would have travelled to India for a spell at an Ashram and come back with a dose of diarrhoea.
The puzzling thing about “Revolutionary Road” is that although the Wheelers have two young children these are conspicuously absent from the home. While the arguments and rantings continue there is no presence of children and that seems very strange in the “Father Knows Best” age. It’s as if Mendes forgot about them from time to time and then brought them onto the set only when necessary. Even my husband commented on their continuous absence.
The film is slow and ends predictably. The storyline is not devastating as we were told to expect, but perhaps I have become too cynical be shocked by married couples being fed up with one another. It’s hardly an original theme and Winslet has acted in a very similar role to this one in “Little Children” (2006)
If anyone in the slums of developing countries saw “Revolutionary Road” they would wonder what all the fuss was about. Perhaps April Wheeler should have been offered a chance to take part in “Wife Swap”. And then the boring suburbs of Connecticut would have appealed to her a bit more.