2.5 out of 5 stars
Who wants to pay $7 to watch a couple yell at each other? Well, apparently the Academy does, considering “Revolutionary Road” has received three Oscar nominations. It also won a Golden Globe. But whether or not the movie actually deserves these accolades is another matter.
“Revolutionary Road” is the story of Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio, “Body of Lies”) and his wife April (Kate Winslet, “The Reader”). The couple has just moved into a quaint suburban house during the 1950s suburbia rush. Frank works in New York City and April raises their two children and does chores around the house.
Despite its superficial sheen, life really isn’t so great for the Wheelers: Frank hates his job, the marriage has fizzled and both Frank and April feel “hopeless emptiness” in their existences. Trying to make their lives special again, April and Frank make plans for the family to move to Paris, and, for a brief moment, their lives are rejuvenated. But, as expected, all their dreams fall apart in a depressing downward spiral.
The scenes in “Revolutionary Road” are as neat and tidy as the Wheeler’s manicured suburban lawn. Unfortunately, like the supposed lives of those who landscape so meticulously, the movie is a bit empty.
Essentially, almost nothing happens in “Revolutionary Road.” Frank and April get up, go to work, take out the trash and fight in scene after scene to tedious effect. It’s also a bit too convenient that the Wheeler children are out of the house for the majority of the movie and none of the neighbors seem to take notice of the Wheelers’ extreme marital problems. Nobody ever hears the sound of breaking glass or impassioned yelling. And this is supposed to be suburbia — where everybody knows his or her neighbor’s business.
The only person who does take notice is John Givings (Michael Shannon, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), a neighbor’s son recently released from a mental institution. He’s the only character who doesn’t blend in with the film’s mass of gray wool suits. He has an uncanny knack for picking out the truth and turning it into something funny. He’s unique — something that can’t be said for any other character.
DiCaprio and Winslet turn in excellent performances as immoral, boring people. Despite each actor’s on-screen prowess, their chemistry seems to have faded since they appeared together in “Titanic.” The few scenes of each of them on their own, like April gazing out a window or Frank at a train station, are the only moments with real resonance. Neither Frank nor April is a particularly appealing character — they are certainly not the couple anyone would want to invite over for a dinner party and a game of bridge — but it’s hard not to feel sorry for them.
“Revolutionary Road” may be well-crafted and delicate, but it leaves a bitter aftertaste. The material is nothing new for director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) and the decaying suburban landscape is far from original. All the same, there is something about the harsh “Revolutionary Road” that manages to captivate with its brutal portrait of the realities of life.