by Rick Grant
Grade: A / Rated R / 119 min
In Revolutionary Road, director Sam Mendes explores the American Dream as it existed in the mid 1950s and its effect on a couple, Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet together on screen for the first time since Titanic). Mendes film delves deep into concept of the average American couple finding Nirvana in the suburbs. The utopian fantasy set the stage for the sexual and counter-culture revolution of the 60s and 70s.
This pursuit of the Madison Avenue idea of the husband working at a well paying job and his obedient wife accepting her role as a housewife and mom began to manifest itself just after WWII from 1945 to1960. Greed addled housing developers built subdivisions of ticky-tacky track-houses on every available patch of earth across the land, parodied in the original musical lead-in to Weeds.
Justin Haythe’s screenplay adaptation of Richard Yates novel examines the Wheelers’ respective psyches, exposing their insecurities and broken dreams. Frank ends up in his father’s business machine firm (like an early IBM) riding a desk and dreaming about a more adventuresome life.
Likewise, April was not ready to be confined in her gilded cage of boredom, while hubby brought home the paycheck. Like many women of the era, she was culturally programmed to go for the seductive American Dream, when, in fact, she had no idea what she really wanted. Now, she was stuck in suburbia with two kids and nothing to do except clean house and dream of a better life.
In one poignant scene, Mendes shot hordes of men in Brooks Brothers suits and fadoras departing the trains in NYC. They look like automatons filing into the paperwork factories in the tall buildings. All of these men felt they had to settle for a secure but mundane life because they were supporting a nuclear family. But underneath the surface, men and women were dreaming of a way to get out of the stifling routine of living the 9 to 5 life, with its two martini lunches, a secretary on the side, and the drudging monotony of everyday life.
One day, Frank comes home to a jubilant April. She had come up with a daring plan for both of them to get out of their mind-numbing mediocre lifestyles. They would use their savings and move to Paris. She would work for the French government and he could pursue other things. Of course, this Bohemian lifestyle was a reckless idea with no Plan B. At first, Frank is caught up in her fantasy. What the hell, he wasn’t happy and April was so enthusiastic. So he went along with it.
Then something strange happened. In a flippant mood, high on April’s plan, Frank pulled off a huge account for the company. The big boss was ecstatic and offered Frank an executive position with a large boost in pay. The company was moving into big mainframe computers and to Frank, it was an exciting opportunity.
Suddenly in Frank’s mind, the move to Paris seemed like foolish endeavor. But how could he shatter April’s Big Dream. To add more pressure, April was pregnant and she didn’t want the baby. The clouds of conflict infected the marriage. Although Frank and April had bought into the American Dream mind-set with its dreary existence, at least Frank had a secure job and could provide for the family.
Basically, April’s idea was childishly unrealistic. They could always travel to Paris on vacation and scout out jobs before making such a drastic move. But April had pinned all her hopes on this move. When Frank burst her bubble, she sank into a deep depression.
Mendes’ film exposes the middle class discontent of the mid-50s in the context of the strained relationship between Frank and April Wheeler. DiCaprio and Winslet are riveting together as they unearth the deep seeded emotional trauma of a conflicted relationship. In effect, Mendes was asking the rhetorical question, “What do women want?” The answer is ambiguous.
by Rick Grant