Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road is a sad portrait of a couple collapsing under the burning question of what they really want from their relationship. I sat cautiously, waiting for his film to take the easy route, to find an easy answer to their problems. This was not to be. This is one of the most honest films I’ve ever seen about marriage and the emptiness that brings it apart.The story involves Frank and April (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) who meet at a party one night and discuss their future plans. She wants to be an actress and he doesn’t have much idea what he wants.
They fall for each other and before you know it, they are Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wheeler, making plans for their new baby and buying a house at 115 Revolutionary Road, sold to them by nosy Mrs. Givings (Kathy Bates). This is the 1950s, the age of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and Frank enters the workforce at a company that makes computer equipment. He isn’t just the man in the gray flannel suit, he is one of many as we see hundreds of gray flannel suits charging through Grand Central Station on their way to work. April, meanwhile settles into the expected role of domesticity, fussing after the kids, making dinner and brooding over her station in life.
Frank and Alice are well aware that their destinies have been locked down into lives that are making them both miserable. Frank doesn’t want to be a corporate stooge and April doesn’t want to be chained to the stove. Neither wants to follow a long trail of misery into middle age so Alice comes up with a strange plan: They will pack up and move to Paris where she will work at the American consulate while he figures out what he wants to do with his life and puts it into motion. Basically, they will be switching roles.
Everyone tells the couple that they are daft but no one has the guts to break open the real reality to them. That is, until they meet John (Michael Shannon), Mrs. Givings’ grown son who has just been released after spending some time in a mental hospital. The only thing really wrong with John is that he seems to have a knack for telling the unvarnished truth without sugar-coating. He forces April and Frank to take a good hard look at their situation and reconsider this goofy plan.
What follows is a case of marital meltdown. It is clear that the couple have been living an unfulfilled life and now that the Honeymoon is over they are desperate to figure out what to do about it. The problem is that real life keeps intruding and it only aids in pulling them further apart.
What comes of their marriage I will not say, except that it has the odd pace of real life. There is no phony construction of the plot here, nothing to manipulate or solve their problems easily. Their problems are are born from two separate, stubborn personalities. Their arguments are merciless and emotionally devastating. This is the first paring of DiCaprio and Winslet since Titanic and I am glad they didn’t choose safe material. This film almost seems to suggest what would have happened to Jack and Rose once they got to America and started a life together.
The movie was directed by Sam Mendes, who is an expert at films about characters who are stuck in a rut. He made Jarhead, about soldiers stuck in the Gulf War with nothing to do. And he made American Beauty which was another that exposes the undercurrents of suburban life. His best arena is focusing on characters desperate to escape their confinement. Revolutionary Road is his best film, a painful portrait of how the dance of dating and courtship can whirl a couple into a delusion that can’t survive when real life sends their ideals crashing to the floor.