Kate Winslett and Leonardo deCaprio were last seen bobbing in the sea off Newfoundland. But what if they’d made it ashore? Surely they would have lived happily ever after, raised a big corn-fed premium family. Wouldn't they? Don’t bet on that.
In Revolutionary Road Kate & Leo are the Wheelers, exploring true love, locked-in frustration and ennui in 1953. There’s no way like the American way. The babies are booming and so are the ’burbs. Under the sink, however, various streptococci breed, and the worst ones eat you up, from the inside out. Gatsby showed us the toxic tender underbelly of the jazz age; Frank and April do the same for the McCarthy era.
Off and on, hopes raised in the Wheelers’ cute meeting scene seem teasingly capable of fulfilment. 95% of the time, however, the film pokes around the bend under the sink, where germs lurk. Frank works in a dead end job; April is bored out of her mind. Frank tries to impress a girl in the typing pool; April tumbles meaninglessly with a neighbour in the front bench seat of his Buick. This is not elegant, or even particularly erotic, but maintains Kate’s record of making out in a car once per blockbuster.
Enter John, the neighbours’ wacky spaced out son, fresh off a massive breakdown. John tells it like it is, like Lear’s fool. Life is suffocating, unbearable. It’s enough to make D. H. Lawrence run off into the woods, roll around naked in wet leaves and write a poem about it, but you can’t even do that in suburban Connecticut. Paris calls, in the form of a breakout that, in itself, would have made a jolly alternative movie. Cary Grant would have moved to Connecticut, but the Wheelers have already done that, with no place else to go and April newly pregnant with No 3. The Wheelers are now in big trouble...
Beneath Sam Mendes beautifully crafted well-scripted film lurk big questions. What is the relationship between love and the marriage bond? What are our masks good for and bad for? When things unravel, how does one level fill with hope, and the next deflate to absolute zero? How does happiness come, from outside in and inside out, and what is it anyway?
Tracking the Wheelers through their downward spiral, Kate Winslet in particular eases deeper into her character in a truly remarkable way. Banking down, she becomes, increasingly, a complete outsider to the honeytone fifties colour scheme. Everything stays intact around her as she catastrophically crumbles internally. Increasingly, the show feels like a horror film. The kids go curiously out of focus as all the wheels come off the wagon. Pleasantville, friends, is a sham.
Understsood or not quite understood, love or loathe the implicit message, this is a very good movie, just a squeak, perhaps, off a really great movie. Just do yourself a favour, and take your first date to a more optimisitc show, like Friday the 13th.