Saturday, January 17, 2009

'Revolutionary Road': A Review of the Movie

This is a powerfully emotional movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, definitely a must-see of former 'Titanic' actors. An instantly classic movie, it reminds me of the Julianne Moore movie, 'Far from Heaven' (2002). Both are set in 1950s Connecticut and concern marital tensions, albeit with a different focus. It also is reminiscent of "Fatal Attraction" and high school staples "Ethan Frome", "Death of a Salesman" and "The Glass Menagerie".

Set in 1955, before the women's movement and color television get into full swing, 'Revolutionary Road' can be viewed as a classic cautionary tale. But if so, what does it caution against, married life in suburbia? Nowadays, don't the greatest percentage of young couples in America with or without children, interested in education and producing for society, live after all in the suburbs? Why see the movie and where is the storyline going? Not to worry. Every movie is a risk to invest time in, but this is a classic movie. It's very interesting and worthwhile and thoughtful.

The movie could have been set outside any large American city and the main setting is typical of upper-middle-class suburbia. Sam Mendes, director, and husband of Kate Winslet, stays close to the book by Robert Yates, summarized here. The story races through a couple's range of experiences in early married life. The houses would nowadays get endlessly renovated and expanded. The suited male commuters and stereotypical typing pool portray the post-war era. Already, computers are seen as the great corporate hope for the future.

While 'Revolutionary Road' is a movie that is beautiful and heart-rending, it does make one get caught up in the moment, and feel as they are feeling. Certainly, suburban family life is worthy of a closer look and exploration. But the movie will make you crave the flip-side, a movie about a normal, young family with happily married parents. Even so, surprisingly welcome it is that perfect stars portray such realistic emotional content in such pretty houses and the movie could have such a dramatic conclusion.

While such content is timeless, the male actors appear to be stereotypical of the era, but unusually reactionary and defensive, with the exception of the mentally-ill former mathematician played by Michael Shannon given to offensive outbursts. This is clearly set before the advent of modern psychiatric drugs that are designed to mellow and control such wild outpourings and to balance delicate interpersonal relationships. Other reviewers are saying that Shannon's character focuses on the truth, but I think he goes too far. Kathy Bates, also of 'Titanic' fame and mother of the former mathematician, plays the role of experienced real-estate agent whose husband ever-so-slowly tunes her out. Now that is a dysfunctional family. In fact, all of the three families, including the neighbor's family, are portrayed as dysfunctional by the end of the movie, and divorce is not mentioned.

"Revolutionary Road" would appear to be a low-budget movie, except for the pay of the main actors, showing again that story composition can make a successful film, even without expensive special effects. It definitely appears to be like an elaborate play, with two houses, an office, an apartment, a road, and two restaurants as settings. It's escapist, and revelatory at the same time. I do highly recommend this movie because of its timeless yet exciting content. It has an important future as a classic. Just saying.

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