May 21, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 12 February 2009 14:19
With Oscar season in full swing, film theaters are showing offerings that will be contenders for the honors. This week, The Reel Dad visits the new film, Revolutionary Road.
The New England streets look oh, so familiar. They could be, actually, the winding lanes of any of the towns in this corner of the world. The houses boast that warm, lived-in feel of the most welcoming homes of any of our neighborhoods. And only when we peek behind closed doors do we discover people struggling to find meaning in their day-to-day routines. Not even the finest coats of paint can cover the cracks in these foundations.
On paper, Richard Yates’ novel, Revolutionary Road, offers a sobering account of a disillusioned middle class in 1950s suburban Connecticut. Its exploration of post-war businessmen in gray flannel suits illuminates the frustration of a generation. They commute by train to Grand Central, find themselves distracted by daydreams, and search for fulfillment while fulfilling menial tasks. Yates’ vivid descriptions and stark dialogue create an empty world filled with people who achieve very little despite their every effort to acquire so very much.
On screen, however, the emotional intensity of the work intimidates director Sam Mendes. This reliable director, well remembered for exploring similar suburban territory in his Oscar-winning American Beauty, seems to get lost this time around. He doesn’t appear to know if he wants to make a painful family drama (think The Ice Storm) or a reflective period re-creation (think Far From Heaven). His focus drifts from characters of depth to over-the-top exaggeration as he spends the film searching for a consistent approach and style. As the credits roll we aren’t sure what we just experienced, perhaps because the director isn’t sure what movie he is making.
Kate Winslet’s performance illustrates the problems. On one hand, she is remarkably agile in her portrait of a frustrated wife who has no idea how to climb out of the desperation she has created. The actress is best when she doesn’t speak, when she relies on her deep eyes and expressive face to tell the story. But when she speaks — in stilted dialogue that sounds too current for the period — Winslet is as artificial as the vinyl covering her sofa. Nothing the character says advances the story the film visually tells. And no matter how strong an actress she is, Winslet can’t overcome the awkward script.
Leonardo DiCaprio, in a role beyond his reach, doesn’t seem to have any idea how to play the bored breadwinner as the actor’s natural youth conflicts with the character’s dark shadings. Much as he struggled in his portrayal of Howard Hughes in The Aviator, DiCaprio has difficulty overcoming his natural exuberance. Only in his casual scenes does he seem to capture the essence of the story. Otherwise he is as lost as a performer as his character in the film.
The supporting performances outshine the leads. Michael Shannon is a welcome Oscar nominee for his supporting work as a man who, despite his disturbances, has an uncanny ability to speak the truth. David Harbour should have been an Oscar nominee for his painful portrayal of a neighbor and the always-reliable Kathy Bates delightfully chews the scenery as a busybody Realtor.
Visually, the movie is lovely, and area residents may recognize some of the shooting locations. But, just like the lives in the story, this beauty is only skin deep. Beneath the façade is a troubling film that never fully satisfies.
* Content: Medium. The ups and downs of saddened lives in Suburban Connecticut never add up to a fulfilling movie meal.
* Entertainment: Medium. Other than a delightful cameo turn by Kathy Bates, and Michael Shannon’s strong Supporting Actor work, the movie becomes tedious rather than moving.
* Message: Medium. The stilted dialogue undermines any lasting message the film could offer. It simply doesn’t ring true.
* Relevance: Low. For a fine movie covering the same ground, check out Ang Lee’s devastating The Ice Storm. That sets the mark.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Low. This is not a family film. Older teenagers would find it disturbing as well as dull. And there’s little to spend much effort discussing.
Three Popcorn Buckets
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