by RISHI AGRAWAL
I know there’s a fairly large group of people who find that Sam Mendes’ Oscar-winning directorial debut, American Beauty, is overrated. I understand why people don’t like it – they find it overwrought and pretentious, but I still think it’s a wonderful portrayal of suburban angst. His latest effort, Revolutionary Road, based on the seminal Richard Yates novel, returns to many of the themes of American Beauty.
The story focuses on a young couple: Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) in 1950s suburbia. Two kids, a nice house. Frank has a good job in the city while April stays at home. They have a slight “artistic” bent – Frank harbors dreams of returning to Paris while April is an actress in local theater productions. Unfortunately, their unfulfilled dreams turn to ennui, and they can no longer abide by the expectations that society places on them. The ennui then turns to angst, and our young couple does very cruel things to themselves and each other.
The plot is nothing groundbreaking, and we have seen this tale countless times in films, but this is a particularly good representation of the theme. After all, the idea of boredom of the mundane was practically unheard of before Yates’ novel. What makes this film work is that we are able to empathize with the characters, even at their worst. There are moments of joy sprinkled throughout the film. The Wheelers, at one point, make plans to move to Paris, which is when everyone around them starts to question their sanity. This is the part of the film where we really want this couple this couple to be happy and the love between them is palpable on the screen. But the happy moments serve to make the vitriol cut that much deeper.
The empathy we feel not only flows from the story, but by the stellar acting all around. Of course, the principals are brilliant, but the real standout in this film is Michael Shannon, who plays John, the mentally unstable son of the Wheelers’ real estate agent and pesky neighbor, played by Kathy Bates. John is the only person who understands what the Wheelers are feeling, making them wonder why the only one sympathetic to their plight is someone who has drifted so far outside of societal norms. John brings into focus the central question in the film: whether the problem is with the Wheelers or everyone who surrounds them.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful art direction in this film. Everything is crisp and fresh, which serves as a contrast to the emotional state of the characters. The indelible image I will always have from this film is watching Frank Wheeler standing in the train station while oceans of business men flow past him.
3 1/2 stars