Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

***

There has been a lot of artistic energy spent trying to prove that the American suburbs are a terrible, stultifying place. The older I get, the less convincing that arguments sounds.

I don’t think the suburbs are bad at all, especially when you consider the alternative. Most people in human history worked back-breaking, truly dead-end jobs on subsistence farms.

A man had to worry about being killed by roving armies of ruffians or drafted into them. A woman was likely to be married off to a guy who did not know how to treat her with respect and had no legal or social obligation to try.

In contrast, my safe job and comfy house in the suburbs don’t seem so rough.

The ‘burbs sure seem pretty bad to Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), though. They’re a young couple in 1950s New York who have every creature comfort and yet do nothing but fight and despair.

Kate Winslet does an amazing job of expressing the deep-seated unhappiness that comes from being a very smart woman who doesn’t have a clue of how to use her intelligence in a constructive manner. Instead of finding a creative hobby or a clever friend to toss ideas around with, April lets all the sophisticated thoughts swirl around her head and drive her crazy.

You almost never see characters like her in the movies, but there are millions of people just like April: destined to be miserable because she is always yearning for the things that she could have rather than trying to appreciate the imperfect life that she does have.

Frank isn’t the intellectual equal of his wife, but he has a wiser attitude. He takes a subconscious turn halfway through the picture and begins to make an effort to accept his unexciting, mediocre existence rather than railing against it.

A problem I have with “Revolutionary Road” is that it seems to justify and even glorify discontentedness. At first it seems quite similar to director Sam Mendes’s wonderful 1999 film “American Beauty” – in that they both tell the story of middle class Americans who are not happy with their average lives.

However, the lead character in “American Beauty” – played memorably by Kevin Spacey – finds a way to change his habits and his values. By the end of the picture he has achieved happiness and inner peace.

In direct contrast, Mendes stacks the deck against poor April and Frank, dooming them to eternal misery. Mendes shows the Wheelers’ children as nothing but nameless burdens without personalities. We hardly ever see Frank or April interact with them, and they certainly never show any sign of love or affection.

Well, no wonder the couple feels so trapped! Raising children would be an unbearable sacrifice of freedom of energy if you didn’t love your kids. But of course almost every parent does. The fact that the Wheelers do not makes their predicament truly awful – and awfully unrealistic.

I appreciate a good drama more than the next guy, so I enjoyed “Revolutionary Road.” However, I don’t appreciate Hollywood big shots telling me that my humble little life is a sham that should be making me unhappy. Despite the great performance by Kate Winslet, it is hard to recommend this movie.

Advertisements