Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Revolutionary Road

The last time Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred together they were the star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose trying to survive the Titanic disaster. In a way you can think of "Revolutionary Road" as what might have happened if Jack had not drowned in the icy Atlantic and they had gotten married.

In the late 1940s Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) meet at a party in New York City. At the time Frank was just bouncing around from crummy job to crummy job after serving in Europe during WWII and April was aspiring to be an actress. The movie picks up in 1955 when Frank and April have married, moved to the suburbs, and produced 2 kids. They are living the post-war American Dream of so many who moved from the crowded cities to the suburbs in the late '40s and early '50s.

Like many of those people, the Wheelers find the American Dream doesn't make them very happy. Frank is riding the train into the city to write advertising manuals (or something) for the office machine company his father worked for as a salesman many years ago. In the city Frank takes a new secretary out for a martini lunch, followed by dessert at her apartment. Meanwhile, April's dreams of acting have faded away, leaving her at home with little to do.

Utilizing all this time to think, April hatches a brilliant scheme to set things right again. She wants the whole family to move to Paris, where Frank visited during the end of the war and said it was the greatest place he'd ever been. April figures she can get a job as a secretary, leaving Frank free to find himself. Frank agrees with this idea and they plan to leave for Paris in the fall, after they sell their house and so forth.

But then multiple complications arise that make April's plan seem less and less likely to become true. Before long, not just their marriage is in jeopardy but their lives as well.

When the book came out in 1961 I'm sure it was far more revolutionary (bad pun) for its look beneath the gilded veneer of suburban life. Since that time there have been numerous other books (the works of the late John Updike spring to mind), movies like "Far From Heaven" or Sam Mendes's own "American Beauty", or even TV shows like AMC's "Mad Men" that have covered similar ground about stagnant marriages and adults struggling to embrace preconceived notions of being a "grownup" in society. Because of this, the movie didn't have that much impact on me. Much of it seems to take place in shouting matches between Frank and April--which is why it's good their two children are so frequently absent--that are as unpleasant as listening to a couple fighting overhead or next to you in an apartment or hotel room.

I much preferred Sam Mendes's similarly-themed "American Beauty" for the wit it brought to this story, so that while there were shouting matches there were also humorous moments to make the film more enjoyable to watch. (I actually sat down to watch it again before writing this and still think it's brilliant.) By comparison, "Revolutionary Road" is pretty much just straight drama while not bringing much new to the table, except for the ending. (I won't spoil that, but you could always look it up on Wikipedia.)

The other thing that bugged me was that while we're given a pretty good grasp of where Frank came from, I don't have nearly the same sense about April. All I know is she wanted to be an actress. I really don't know anything else about her background. I would have felt on surer footing had I known a little more about her.

Anyway, awards season is over and this film didn't win much of anything, nor do I see any reason why it should have--though there's some debate whether Kate Winslet was better in this or "The Reader." It's an OK movie, but not a great one. The stars and director have all done better work than this.

My score: 2.5/4 stars

Metacritic score: 62

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