Saturday, January 24, 2009


Everyone is excited to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet get back together onscreen after their first gigantic team-up in “Titanic” almost a decade ago.

But hold your horses because this movie is not the usual sugar-coated, shriek-popping love story like the Titanic. Actually, they should be handing out complimentary razor blades, so that the audience can just slash their wrists after viewing the neurotic yet provocative tale.

Set on post-war America and based from the 1961 agonizing novel by Richard Yates, “Revolutionary Road” is harsh, painful and merciless as it depicts the story of a young couple, the “Wheelers”, while exploring the idea of love and marriage. On the outside, the couple looks very perfect and upright and not only that, they are being looked upon by others as special and superior. But like normal people, this couple has so much going on beneath their perfect locks, pearly whites and well-ironed flannels.

Sam Mendes directed the film in such a way that everything seems impeccably normal in the beginning especially when the young Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) met for the first time in a social gathering in New York. After the opening scene, a few years have passed, already married, we are transported to suburban Connecticut and in a scene where Frank is watching her wife perform in a community theater, which was obviously a stinker. On their way home, we had a first glimpse of how volatile and explosive the two characters are.

After that scene, we say, “Hey, that’s normal … couples go ballistic with each other and fight ...”. As each scene unfolds, viewers are led to believe that a deep-woven plot is still yet to be revealed but not until the couple decided to move to Paris and leave the white picket fence and the playing-perfect-family behind, so that they can feel and follow their unconventional dreams. At this point, the viewers already had the idea that they are not watching some romantic fantasy of some sort, but rather, a harsh reflection of reality as we see these young couple be swallowed into their selfish ambitions and selfish lack of ambition, turning them into monsters and eat each other alive.

April is willing to pull out the kids out of school, sell the house, move to Paris and go to work – and she is willing to do all of these for Frank, so he can have the luxury of time off, to think about what he really wants to do.

While Frank is willing to stay, stay on in a dull job, even take the promotion he doesn’t want – and he is willing to do all of these for April, so that they can have another child and enjoy some of the luxuries they’ve done without.

They are really, truly, only selflessly thinking of the other.

They are really, truly, such clueless self-deceiving monsters.

Then, we realize, these are not monsters. These people are like us. And we also begin to realize that this story will not end well.

The story itself is basic …. it is so basic … it’s complicated and schematic to the point of having no choice but to accept a painful reality.

Although, occasionally all through out the movie, “American Beauty” surfaces. This is the movie that gave Mendes his first Oscar and a movie which also dealt with unhappy adults and childish adulteries. But unlike “American Beauty”, “Revolutionary Road”, is not that extra-neurotic and it does not have that pinch of whimsical absurdity in it. It also does not have that explosive and the “what-in-the-hell” ending as everyone expects. The movie entirely conveys a feeling of having an open, shallow wound, which does not inflict an excruciating pain but rather an irritating, stinging pain.

And as we all know, this stinging feeling will not be possible without the tremendous talent that gushed out from Leo and Kate. So we see DiCaprio's dull pain as -- his still-boyish face contorted and on the edge of tears -- he pitches a tantrum when his wife denies him her love. Kate Winslet really deserves the Golden Globes or even the Oscars this time. There's a shot early in the film that captures what Winslet can achieve non-verbally in five seconds' screen time. She can shift from 10 various emotions in a heartbeat without looking like a mentally retarded person. We see Winslet's icy anger at the latter part of the film -- and eventual anguished helplessness -- as she realizes how trapped she is and then, on the next scene, she’s back into becoming a Stepford wife.

Michael Shannon plays the addled, electro-shocked son of the local real estate agent (Kathy Bates), and he’s marvelous in a role of a person who’s perceived as delusional. His mother believes that he has a mental disorder, but he, being the only identified crazy person in the story, is actually the truth-teller, upsetting the picture-perfect suburban niche. Shannon’s wit and intimidation tactics are put to exemplary use. And then, following Shannon’s second scene, the film slips into a methodical, slightly heavy rhythm that’s enough to drive even the most undeviant into running out of town screaming and pulling his hair out.

"Revolutionary Road" takes its name from Frank and April's perfect block; so nice, so green, so ideal for raising children. But it also, unconsciously, signifies a journey the entire society is about to take. In another dozen years or so, women like April will be able to plan their families, to go back to work, to find other creative outlets than the nicest new recipe for chicken ala king. Or not, if they choose to. But that is the point. They will have that choice.

But this is 1955. And for now, for many, "Revolutionary Road" is a very pretty, very quiet and very creepy dead-end street.

On a closing note, here’s a quote from April: “This is what’s unrealistic. It’s unrealistic for a man with a fine line to go on working year after year in a job he can’t stand. Coming home to a place he can’t stand, to a wife who’s equally unable to stand the same things. Our whole existence here is based on this great premise that we’re special and superior to the whole thing. But we’re not. We’re just like everyone else. Look at us, we bought in to the same ridiculous delusion, this idea that you have to resign from life and settle down the moment you have children. And we have been punishing each other for it.”

On a lighter note, we still have to admit that watching Leo over and over again has its perks: