Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Can't Believe I Missed Lost For This! I Justifiably Pan Revolutionary Road!

The Good: A few moments of performance/character, Soundtrack
The Bad: Melodramatic, Nothing happens, Poor writing, Unlikable characters, Soundtrack telegraphs everything.
The Basics: Boring, jaded and not filled with performances nearly as great as many claim, Revolutionary Road is a flop for director Sam Mendes!

[Note: This review was originally written off a preview screening of the film, but I liked the title and opening, so I am leaving it unaltered. Enjoy!]

It's a tough thing to stand before your fellow critics and ask "What movie did you just watch?!" for a film that is receiving universal praise. However, having just endured the latest Sam Mendez film, Revolutionary Road, I stand up in the community, shake my head, and firmly and loudly shout "Don't go to see this movie!" To add insult to injury, tonight while I was at the screening of this film, I was forced to miss the season premiere of my favorite television show, Lost. That just hurts.

Before the pile-on begins, it is worth establishing that: 1. I like dark films, 2. I like films with great performances, and 3. I was utterly unbiased going into Revolutionary Road; I had not seen a single trailer or read even one review of the film. And because it is worth mentioning, I have been a fan of some of the works of director Sam Mendez, most notably American Beauty (reviewed here!). As we say in the biz; this is no American Beauty!

April and Frank spot one another across a smoky room in 1948 America. They connect and seven years later, they have two children, an unhappy marriage and April's dreams of being an actress have died a very public death. As their marriage falls apart, Frank and April remember the better days, how they found their little house in suburban Connecticut on Revolutionary Road and the time they spent there happy. As Frank begins an affair with a new secretary at his machine firm - where he works in advertising - April contemplates the lack of direction in her life and mourns her missed opportunities.

But April comes across a photograph of Frank in Paris and recalls how it was the one place he wanted to return to. April pitches to Frank that they do just that. So, they begin preparations to sell the house and car and move to France where April will work and Frank will find himself. Yet nothing goes quite according to plan as April gets pregnant and Frank is offered a whopping promotion and raise and their dreams begin to die yet again.

A few years ago, there came a film that did not fare so well called The Story Of Us (reviewed here!) which basically had Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer yelling at one another. Their characters were at the end of a disintegrating marriage and the film was largely unpleasant. The thing is, the critics and viewers seemed to realize that. With Revolutionary Road, most seem to be giving the characters a free pass on substance because they are played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. The thing is, Revolutionary Road, like The Story Of Us is basically a lot of yelling and one tires of it quickly. Sure, it has some great realism, but it also is not at all entertaining. Does it capture the reality of life women were forced to endure at the time? Undeniably? Is it worth watching? Not really, no.

The reason for my antipathy is quite simple; the film goes nowhere. There is no physical or emotional journey in Revolutionary Road. After the establishment of the relationship between Frank and April, there is a scene that illustrates the two of them married and fighting bitterly over April's flop of a play. We, the viewer get it. What next? Unfortunately, the answer to that is simply "more of the same." Revolutionary Road continues and revisits the same fighting, performances and character issues over the course of the interminable two hours this film runs. There is no catharsis, but worse than that, there is never any real hope, no growth, not even much in the way of events. When looking at the plot of Revolutionary Road it is remarkably simple: Frank and April, in an unhappy marriage, decide to leave the U.S., they have the mentally worn-down John over for dinner, have affairs, are offered promotions and the end comes (far, far too late for most viewers to care). Instead, the movie plods along with little to recommend it as the characters spend the bulk of the time yelling at one another.

Add to that, none of the characters are particularly likable. One of the first things Frank does is have an affair on April. He's not a good husband or a particularly good man and when things have the chance to turn around, he continues to make poor decisions that make it utterly impossible to respect the man. Similarly, April likely suffers from bipolar and she truly suffers. Divorce, as this is set in the 1950s is not mentioned, but she is not exactly blameless for the condition of the marriage, either. She baits Frank and lets him treat her terribly instead of leaving him.

Equally problematic are the supporting characters. The neighbor, Shep, is clearly interested in April, director Sam Mendes makes that so obvious only an idiot or someone who, I suppose, is literally blind, will not see that. Actor David Harbour leers through all of the scenes they share and the film plods along with a sort of "get on with it feel" because the viewer pretty much knows that at some point April will have and affair or Shep is going to rape her. One of those two things will happen, because that is how the guy is looking at her constantly. That Shep's wife, Milly, never seems to catch on is just insulting to all concerned.

The only character with anything going for him is the crazy guy, John and even that is somewhat problematic. It has become cliche that only the crazies truly see things as they are (though I'll abide by that in being a crazy that calls this film flat-out boring). John is just the embodiment of that archetype.

Only slightly better than the dismal characters and utter lack of character development is the acting in the film. Kathryn Hahn, who plays Milly, is so over-the-top in Revolutionary Road that it took me a while to figure out why her performance seemed so familiar. I challenge anyone who has seen Scott Thompson in drag on The Kids In The Hall to watch Hahn in Revolutionary Road and not find her performance derivative of that. Moreover, in his second appearance on screen, Michael Shannon appears to be channeling Heath Ledger's version of the Joker for his portrayal of John.

As for the leads, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are quite safely within their established ranges in their roles of April and Frank. DiCaprio, for example, is giving his fans nothing that is not within his abilities that we didn't see in the way he played his character in Blood Diamond. He can yell, he can play puppy dog eyes, we get it. What's new? Nothing here. In a similar fashion, Kate Winslet gives us nothing we haven't seen before in other films of hers. She showed more range in her single episode of Extras than she did in this entire film.

Movies that are dark are not to be shunned. There are plenty of films with oppressive moods that are still great. This is not one of them. You can have a movie without much plot, if it still has great characters or amazing acting. This has neither. You can have a film with lousy characters and it can work if they do something interesting, in Revolutionary Road, they do not. And you can have poor acting in a film where there is a story or decent writing or even intriguing character developments. Revolutionary Road has none of those things. If you bother to sit through the film up to the title plaque, know this: you've seen all the film has in the way of acting and a journey.

It's truly not worthy.

For other works with Dylan Baker, check out my reviews of:
Across The Universe
Spider-Man 3
Let’s Go To Prison
Hide And Seek
Spider-Man 2
Changing Lanes
Thirteen Days
The Cell
Requiem For A Dream


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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