February 2, 2009

Movie Review: Revolutionary Road

I don’t know if I can say that I enjoyed ‘Revolutionary Road,’ but I am glad to have seen it. That being said – most of my issues with the film are plot-driven, so if you haven’t seen it, and plan to, you should stop reading now.

As a good AP English student, I read a lot of so-called feminist literature in high school. At some point, I realized that feminist literature seemed to mean that, at the end, the heroine either marries (‘Jane Eyre') or dies (‘The Awakening’). This frustrated my 16-year old self, and it’s a large part of the reason I try to avoid chick lit today (If high-brow feminist literature is disappointing in its portrayal of women because it winds up being clichéd, what hope does Bridget Jones have?).

What does this have to do with ‘Revolutionary Road’? Well, I haven’t read the book, but according to my sources (Read: Trevor), the Sam Mendes-directed adaptation is very accurate, so I feel pretty confident saying that ‘Revolutionary Road’ is a feminist novel. This is interesting, because it’s written by a man. While I believe that men can be feminists (The idea that to be a feminist is to hate men and not shave your armpits is an out-of-date, close-minded, ridiculous view), I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of male writers – and film directors – using a woman’s feelings about and actions toward her body as a symbol for their a bigger statement, which is what I think was happening here.

Let’s get into the specifics:

Kate and Leo play a married couple, living a supposed perfect life in the suburbs of New York City in the 1950s. Under the surface, it’s far from perfect. When they met, they had ideas and plans and passions – and now they’ve somehow wound up the bored parents of two living in the suburbs, and they blame one another. She’s manipulative and prone to depressive behavior; he’s wandering, patronizing and self-righteous.

They decide to break out of this mold, to grab their lives with both hands and to make it into the one they always imagined. For them, this means picking up and moving to Paris, where Kate Winslet’s April will support the family in a well-paying secretarial position while Leo’s Frank, for lack of a better term, figures his s**t out. This decision – one that they make together, based on an amount of mutual respect they hadn’t shown one another in years – reinvigorates their marriage, and they go about making plans and feeling superior to everyone around them. It’s the kind of idealistic glow you can only hope will last. Then (again, SPOILER ALERT), she gets pregnant and he gets cold feet and cancels their plans. She freaks out, tries to abort the new baby to take some semblance of control over her own life, and winds up killing herself.

In the end, we’re left with an image of her children swinging on a jungle gym, being absentmindedly watched by their now devoted (so we hear) father. We also get to see the neighbors – who, if I had time/space and thought you were interested, I could write a whole lot more about. Let’s just say that one of them, the “perfect husband” is in love with Kate Winslet, and does more than fantasize about it – gossiping about the story of the Wheelers as they welcome a new couple to Revolutionary Road.

I know that the movie is about the cyclical attempt to recapture the American Dream. Richard Yates was challenging his readers to ask what this so-called picture perfect post-war America was really hiding. But, I can’t help but feel like there’s this underlying point being made about the futility of life as a woman, and that’s what’s really bothering me.

Wow, you’re still with me?

Plot-aside, the movie was well done. I kind of felt like Leonardo Dicaprio was channeling Pete Campbell and I wasn’t as impressed with Kate Winslet as I was expecting, but it was beautifully shot and there was excellent support from Kathy Bates, the Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon and Kathryn Hahn, who looks way too much like Ana Gasteyer:

I know I just spent a few paragraphs ranting about the plot, so it probably won’t shock you to say that I didn’t love the script. I’ll reiterate what Trevor said afterward: Because the script pulled so directly from the book, it would have been better served on stage, where such formal language seems at home. But where the script was good, it was great. For me, in the movie world, there are few things more hard-hitting, nerve-wracking and intense than arguments you can imagine participating in – the kind that leave its on-screen participants in tears, broken up, or silently sitting on the edge of a bed, broken down. These are more intense for me than any fight scene where actual punches are thrown, and this movie has raised the bar with some serious doozies.

7.25 Twix bars!