1 Hr., 59 Mins.
Revolutionary Road July 28, 2018
To this day, a great many Titanic fans aren’t so pleased with this: several believe the door could have accommodated two people. (I’m inclined to think that if both Jack and Rose clambered on to this stray piece of wood, though, they, like the ship on which they were just passengers, would have sunk too.)
Imagine, then, that, against the odds, Jack and Rose were able to see the preferred sort of Hollywood ending through. How might things look? Would they come to have a blissful marriage, and never really see the honeymoon phase come to an end? Or would they, like so many couples, be worn down by the dreaded phenomenon known as settling down, and eventually lose sight of the passion that once drove them?
I hope the spouses in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, from 2008, do not represent a might-have-been reality for Jack and Rose. If you take away the fact that it doesn’t work timewise (it is set in the 1950s, whereas a marriage-centric Titanic sequel would have taken place in the 1910s and ‘20s), though, one is partial to wondering.
The movie is a more-cynical version of Mendes’ own American Beauty, the once-go-to midlife crisis film whose legacy has been hampered by the presence of its male lead, Kevin Spacey. In Revolutionary Road, Winslet and DiCaprio are reimagined as April and Frank Wheeler, an upper-middle-class couple. They are only in their 30s. But in the film – in which they play financially stable suburban drones beset with two perfect little kids — they are inching toward a crisis more fitting for 40-somethings.
They married in the late 1940s. They met at a swank party, got along, embarked on a brief courtship, and tied the knot. Back then, April was an aspiring actress; Frank was a longshoreman who wanted to be a cashier. They wanted to be somebodies.
But in the years since, things have hollowed. April’s career ambitions fell through, and she has transmuted into a miserable hausfrau. Frank has since snagged a sales position with his father’s old company, but he finds the job monotonous and trivial. The pair sees more of the same when looking ahead. If the year were 1969, their favorite song would be Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”: They are increasingly disturbed to think that their everyday routines will likely stay the same until the days they die.
The movie, an adaptation of Richard Yates’ 1961 novel of the same name, never gets happier. After getting in a big fight not long after the film’s opening, April suggests she and her husband move to Paris to enliven things. Frank thinks this is a good idea, too. But the plan doesn’t pan out: April gets pregnant; Frank is promoted.
In a pivotal scene, the Wheelers have their neighbors, the Givings (Kathy Bates, Richard Easton), over for lunch — and the latter family’s son, the supposedly mentally ill John (Michael Shannon), reads into the domestic situation so perceptively, and bombastically, that it’s disconcerting.
April has an affair with her husband’s best friend (David Harbour) out of boredom; Frank sleeps with his naif of a secretary (Zoe Kazan) a few times. The movie becomes more and more defined by scorching spats.
Revolutionary Road is an unnerving depiction of suburban despair; it is so unaffected and convincingly sepulchral that I, with my emotions worn, often wondered if things could get any worse. They do — dramatically so.
I cannot find any faults in the movie: it is extraordinarily acted and staged, and features exceedingly intelligent writing. Yet I have an aversion to it. It is ugly and ultimately unavailing, and left me depressed and unchanged. But because it is disposed to reflect life’s discontents without a hint of cinematic romanticism, I suppose that comes with the territory. Maybe seeing characters realize that so much of what we do is futile and without reward should be comforting: It is a signal that we are not alone. If we finish Revolutionary Road shaken up, that’s only an indication that it’s worked. B+
often wonder what might have happened to Jack and Rose, the doomed lovers at the center of Titanic (1997), had tragedy not struck. The ending of that film, still fiercely debated, saw Rose, played by Kate Winslet, grab on to, and then climb on top of, a door floating in the water that engulfed the aforementioned ship. She lived to tell the tale; the film is based on her flashbacks. But Rose’s paramour, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, wasn’t so lucky: Stuck treading water, he succumbed to the Atlantic Ocean's near-arctic temperatures.