Revolutionary Road takes a piece out of you
Revolutionary Road is a 2008 British-American drama film directed by Sam Mendes and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The screenplay by Justin Haythe is based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates. The film opened in limited release on December 26, 2008 and expanded wide on January 23, 2009.
Set in 1955, Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) move to Revolutionary Road in one of New York City’s wealthy Connecticut suburbs, and have a daughter and a son.
April is dissatisfied with her life as a suburban housewife, and Frank despises his marketing job at Knox Business Machines, where his now-deceased father worked for twenty years in a similar position. The Wheelers feel they are unique and special, but trapped in the conformity of life in the suburbs, where they moved to raise their children. From time to time they have bitter arguments, with Frank berating April and acting out physically.
On Frank’s thirtieth birthday he seduces a young secretary from his office, and begins to sleep with her on occasion. Returning home late, April surprises him with a birthday cake and a proposal that they move to Paris, with April working as a secretary to support the family so that Frank can discover what he truly wants to do in life. Frank is reluctant at first but ultimately embraces the idea, and the renewed optimism breathes fresh life into their relationship. Colleagues and friends react politely to the couple’s decision, but tell each other they consider it to be immature or impractical.
Meanwhile, Frank’s talent at his job earns him some recognition, and April becomes pregnant again. April wants an abortion and has bought a device she has heard is safe if used in the first twelve weeks. Frank disapproves. Later, Frank is offered a promotion and raise at work. Eventually he tells April that for the sake of the unborn baby he has decided not to go to Paris. Later April has sex with their neighbor and friend, Shep Campbell.
The Wheelers are friends with local realtor Helen Givings and her husband Howard, who occasionally visit with their adult son John, a former mathematician who is now under psychiatric care in a mental institution. John has no inhibition about asking the Wheelers direct personal questions and offering his blunt assessment of their dissatisfaction with marriage, work, and life, to the embarrassment of his parents. The Wheelers are interested in him for his perception and honesty. However, when John learns the Wheelers have cancelled their trip to Paris, he becomes agitated and begins to insult them, saying he feels sorry for them and their unborn baby. This leads to an argument, in which Frank tells April he wishes she had chosen an abortion. April tells Frank she does not love him anymore, and in fact hates him.
April runs into the woods and asks to be left alone. She returns and, the next morning, calmly acts the part of a supportive housewife. When Frank leaves for the day she attempts to perform an abortion with her device, which goes wrong, and she dies later that day in the hospital. Frank moves to the city with the children. The neighbors’ lives carry on and they tell each other in various ways that they disapproved of the Wheelers.
Directed with extraordinary skill by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who warms the chill in the Yates-faithful script by Justin Haythe, the film is a tough road well worth traveling. Camera genius Roger Deakins lights the “hopeless emptiness” on view with a terrible beauty. All the actors amaze. Start the award buzz for Michael Shannon as John Givings, the institutionalized son of a gossipy realtor (the ever-superb Kathy Bates). Home on a visit, John spits the truth at Frank and April. Playing the role like a heat-seeking missile that targets hypocrisy, the volcanic Shannon scores a knockout. DiCaprio is in peak form, bringing layers of buried emotion to a defeated man. And the glorious Winslet defines what makes an actress great, blazing commitment to a character and the range to make every nuance felt. Winslet’s last scene, as April prepares breakfast for a husband who can’t see the torment behind her smile, is emotionally devastating. This movie takes a piece out of you.
Written by Luca Aquilanti