El Cuzcatleco 2.0

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REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

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marriage is so much fun.

spousal fighting can be so much fun.

Sam Mendes’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD has gotten a lot of attention for reuniting Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. And like TITANIC, once again, the narrative is focused on two doomed lovers.  April (Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo) Wheeler are a young couple, living in a post-WWII Conneticut suburban town, struggling with their marriage. They fight, cheat, argue, and are emotionally insulated from each other.

The film makes a point that they are two naive young Americans who married too soon, and never really deserved a marriage, let alone each other. They are good people with good intentions, but can never love. With this critique as the focal point, the film works. But Mendes’ takes a little too much time to propel the story forward (it catches a bit a momentum near the end, where Mendes’ flourishes are carefully muted). There is something too clinical and mechanical about the plot that reeks of weak melodrama (this is Justin Haythe’s second screenplay) . Douglas Sirk mined this territory well several decades ago with WRITTEN IN THE WIND (a film that deals with the same themes as RR and is more effective) and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, and frankly, REVOLUTIONARY seems too familiar in its attempt to deconstruct the realities of suburban life in 1950s America. The script itself is full of recurring patterns that get tiresome. April and Frank fight. They kiss and make up. They fight again, so on and so forth. And every moment of shock is telegraphed. Nothing is a surprise. And the pity we’re supposed to feel for these two people is simply made too removed, too distant. The tragic ending is undercut by several flimsy editing choices (what’s the point of having Frank just run after leaving the hospital?).

While I enjoyed the gorgious Thomas Newman score, it was used far too often, overwhelming the visual drama taking place. Almost every tender moment is supplemented by the score. It manipulated feelings too often for me, when it shouldn’t have. It reminded me a lot of watching NOTES ON A SCANDAL, with a Phillip Glass score that was so sharp, so overwhelming, that it didn’t allow me a moment for breath whenever Judi Dench’s obsessiveness morphed into outrageousness.

Fortunately, some of the acting overcomes the limitation of the script. Leonardo DiCaprio, in the nearly ten years after TITANIC, has (refreshingly) grown as an actor. Gone are the almost irritating cocky characters he’s been associated with in the past (TITANIC, THE AVIATOR, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN being notable examples). His role in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is very complex. Frank evokes a different facet of masculinity. He feigns anger and confidence in his work, home, and relationships. What is revealed is a sensitive, shaken young man who is not ready to be a husband.  DiCaprio does an amazing job of making us realize that we shouldn’t feel bad for Frank lacking what it takes to be a strong ‘breadwinner,’ a proper ‘man of the house.’ What we should feel is pity for his ill-prepareness for marital responsibility. Instead of being supportive to April, he tries to overwhelm her. He doesn’t listen to her, nor own up to his selfishness. DiCaprio needs to stop producing films about the environment (the dreadful documentary 11TH HOUR) and pick jucier roles like this.

For all of the award buzz surrounding Kate Winslet’s performance (as of this writing, she has won a Golden Globe for this performance, and is rumored to be a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination), I was some what disappointed with her take on the character. Sam Mendes has admitted that he wanted to correct the role of April from the source material (a Richard Yates novel) by giving her a little more flesh, and free her from the restraints of the typical American suburban wife that is a common trope in drama. But I’m not convinced by it. The role of April seems too underwritten…her character arc, while on the surface more tragic than Frank’s, didn’t affect me. Her confrontations with Frank seemed too calculated, rote, delving into soap. And Winslet, unlike DiCaprio, didn’t seem to own her role…some traits of April seemed too familiar (I felt I was seeing Rose from TITANIC again). She has demonstrated a wider range in other films (HEAVENLY CREATURES, HIDEOUS KINKY, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND etc) and its disappointing to see her retread to a character than has been made too much a caricature in melodrama (the long suffering domestic wife). She was good, but her character was too insular, and maybe that was the point. But I wasn’t affected by her story as much as Frank’s. April was simply too underwritten by Justin Haythe’s script and underserved by Winslet’s performance.

Some high points: Michael Shannon, respected stage actor, is the ticking time bomb of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. I must follow what most film critics have said as giving a firecracker of a performance as the electro-shocked son who gives the Wheelers the honest truth about their unhappiness, perhaps a little too honestly. I wished he would have appeared in more scenes. And kudos must be given to character actor David Harbour, playing the neighbor Shep Campbell. He gives what could have been a throway character (the rival neighbor) into one we really care about. Shep is an unhappy man, just as unhappy as Frank, but more deserving of a better marriage with a better partner.

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Written by elcuzcatleco

01/14/2009 at 9:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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