‘Revolutionary Road’ a well-crafted story underscored by misery | AspenTimes.com

‘Revolutionary Road’ a well-crafted story underscored by misery

Amy Biancolli
Houston Chronicle/AP
Aspen, CO Colorado
DreamWorks PicturesLeonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star in "Revolutionary Road."

This borders on sacrilege, but “Revolutionary Road” hangs its melodrama on a several outdated devices. Director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe, working from Richard Yates’ influential 1961 novel, have turned in a heavyweight domestic tragedy that’s seriously acted and handsomely shot but throws off a strong whiff of moth balls.

Maybe it’s all the passe psychobabbling. Or it might be that old stifled-mommy trope ” the idea that nothing can dampen a lady’s spirits like raising children. But I suspect, overall, that it’s dialogue like this: “Don’t you know? You’re the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world! You’re a man!”

Let me clarify: This is a good film. If Mendes tried, he couldn’t make a bad one ” and his return to “American Beauty’s” landscape of sun-kissed suburban melancholy has that old familiar layering of compromise and desire.

But there’s precious little humor, this time. There’s no space for irony amid all the weeping and bickering and full-throated fortissimo shouting matches, which give way at the end to a quieter, ghastlier despair. The wicked novelty of seeing “Titanic’s” young lovebirds ” Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, reunited onscreen after 11 years ” spit bile as unhappy Connecticut parents fades, very quickly, to battle fatigue. Even an interval of hope and light that illumines the middle section has DOOMED TO HELL written all over it.

Everyone and everything in the plot is a harbinger of misery. And it’s the worst sort of misery: the misery of mid-century middle-class married drones. Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) yearn in italics. They “know” life is more than a commute to a desk job, they “feel” the urge to break out, they “long” to quit the ‘burbs and move to Paris. In short, they want to (heave deep breath) “find” themselves.

Frank, the less imaginative of the two, doesn’t know where to look. He senses vaguely that he’s meant for better things ” “I wanna feel things, really feel them,” he says ” but isn’t sure which things or how to attain them. April understands more, and suffers for it: The apron strings that tie her to husband and kids might as well be chains. It’s she who agitates for the move to France, she who sees it as a form of salvation. Frank craves emotion, but she feels enough already. “This is our chance, Frank! This is our chance!”

Supporting characters bob in and out of their lives: Lovers, neighbors, co-workers. As a friendly real-estate agent with a broken son, Kathy Bates blows her usual fresh wind of sympathy and verve. And as the son, the reliably high-strung Michael Shannon (“Bug”) adds to his collection of ominous flakes with a tour-de-force re-enactment of a 1950s psychiatry manual. His little piece of the plot is fun to watch, but the role is as exhausted as they come: The Crazy-Man Truth-Teller who sees and abhors the tidy lies that line suburban nests.

DiCaprio and Winslet do put on a show. Viewers in the mood for rip-snorting marital combat should go ahead and partake, but they must prepare to leave the theatre in a state of profound depression. Otherwise, if you want to see Winslet giving the performance of her life, see “The Reader” instead. And if you’re looking for a chain-smoking throwback to a bygone era ” a time of glossy husbands and starchy wives, all of them trapped in a chapter from “The Feminine Mystique” ” then you’re better off with DVDs of “Mad Men.” That, at least, never feels dated.

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