Friday, October 2, 2009

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Frank: “In other words, you don’t care what I do or who I fuck or anything?”
April: “No, I guess that’s right. I don’t. Fuck who you like.”
Title: Revolutionary Road
Genre: Drama
Year: 2008
Rated: R

Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler
Kate Winslet as April Wheeler
Kathy Bates as Helen Givings
Michael Shannon as John Givings

Plot: A young couple in 1950’s suburban Connecticut plan to move to Paris in hopes of escaping from the quiet desperation of their lives.

First Viewing: Summer, 2009 on DVD.
Added to the List: September 23, 2009.

I’m currently getting over a cold. Yesterday, I decided to stay in bed and recuperate instead of going to class. I was past the point of being able to sleep comfortably so what else was there to do but watch a movie? As I was shuffling through my massive DVD case, I came to a very depressing realization: I have no Sick Movie.

Any movie lover worth their salt has a Sick Movie. You know…a movie you love but refuse to watch because it’s the one film that can make you feel better when your head’s full of mucus. Certainly, I’ve been sick a myriad of times, and so I’ve had a myriad of substitute sick movies. Action movies are too exciting. Musicals and comedies are also out because singing and laughing are never good when you have a sore throat or a cough. Usually, I pick a drama or a historical romance because they have calming, soothing it’s-okay-if-you-fall-asleep-during-it effect. But I’ve never had an Official Sick Movie®™©.

I finally decided on Revolutionary Road. A movie that I had a rampant desire to see since the day I heard about Kate & Leo doing another movie together. Honestly, I would go see Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in anything they made. The fact that they were reunited ten years after Titanic lifted me to a whole new level of excitement. And not only were they reunited, they were reunited in a movie about the malaise of 1950’s suburbia.

Okay, there are many themes I enjoy in fiction but one of my favorites is fucked up suburbia. The real reason behind this is a mystery to me. I didn’t grow up in suburbia. I grew up in small farming community.

Oakesdale, Washington…population 420.

I’ve never even been to suburbia. I think I may have driven through it, but my experience has been purely through film. My earliest exposure was probably in Edward Scissorhands but in my early childhood I had no way of knowing that. Then came Pleasantville (which I know is technically about a small town, but come on….the 1950’s conformity screams suburbia). As time passed, my love for Tobey Maguire and burgeoning snobbish film taste lead to movies such as The Ice Storm, Far From Heaven, and Little Children (also starring Kate Winslet).

Revolutionary Road is a very cliché movie. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many suburbia flicks so I’m used to seeing bored, lonely housewives…

Julianne Moore in The Hours (2002)

…and work raddled, unsatisfied husbands…

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in American Beauty (1999)

…needy children…

Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson in Little Children (2006)

…and nosy, well meaning neighbors.

Nicole Kidman and Glenn Close in The Stepford Wives (2004)

Revolutionary Road has them all. Even if you have never seen this movie, or heard of the novel, you could probably fake your way through a movie review or book report without ever watching/reading it. The very first scene shows the meeting of Frank and April Wheeler. Their eyes meet from across a crowded room. They dance. They talk. They fall in love. A usual beginning.

Fast forward about seven (?) years, April Wheeler is a (you guessed it!) bored, lonely housewife who is confined to her role as a wife, mother, and unwilling representative of the American dream. Meanwhile, Frank is the man in the grey flannel suit working at Knox, a company that does…well, I’m not quite sure. Something with computers? Advertising? The character explains it some time in the middle. I think it’s meant to be forgettable, so I doubt Richard Yates would shun me for not remembering. The point is, Frank works a useless job that he hates.

April is trying to lessen the boredom in her life and takes part in a disastrous community theatre production. Her original aspirations to be an actress have fizzled over time, along with whatever talents she once possessed. On the way home, Frank and April argue over nothing in particular, showing us how their relationship has deteriorated. The next day, Frank goes to work, meets a new secretary and seduces her that afternoon with martinis and by impressing her with his practiced manipulations to avoid work.

Frank comes home later that night to an apology and a party celebrating his 30th birthday. All day April has been contemplating their situation. She refuses to accept this suburban life. And develops a plan to leave Connecticut and go to Paris. With very little persuasion, Frank agrees. Their relationship is then revitalized. Frank and April inform their next door neighbors, Millie and Shep of the move. Neither of them know quite how handle their closest friends abandoning their perfect, suburban life. Shep takes it particularly hard because he’s been harboring secret affections for April.

Also, in the mean time, the Wheelers’ well meaning buttinski neighbor and real estate agent, Mrs. Givings, asks them to meet with her “troubled” son. John Givings is an ex-mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia. Unlike his parents, he has little reason to conform or keep up with appearances. John is the only one who understands and appreciates the plan. And the only one who the Wheelers find who understands their repulsion of the suburbs.

April and Frank are finally happy, or so it would seem. Even though their plan is scoffed at by everyone, they’re on cloud 9. At work, Frank makes some smart ass report, mainly to thumb his nose at the system, but it the company eats it up and he’s offered a promotion. He makes April believe that he’s turned it down, but the money is far too tempting.

A few months later, April discovers that she’s pregnant due to a passionate encounter in the kitchen. Frank then uses the pregnancy as an excuse to stay in Connecticut. April is upset and doesn’t understand why their baby can’t be born in Paris. It’s then that she realizes that Frank is too afraid to leave.

Later, Frank discovers the supplies necessary to facilitate a home abortion. April explains that she’ll keep the baby, if they can have it in Paris. But Frank refuses, putting his foot down as the patriarch. And being the dutiful wife she’s supposed to be, April goes along with his wishes.

In the end, after a huge fight, April gives herself the abortion and ends up dying from blood loss. Frank moves away to the city. The inhabitants of Revolutionary Road discuss the fate of Wheelers. And that’s it. That’s the end.

I know, it’s a very depressing movie. Even as far as depressing movies go, this one probably ranks pretty high some all time lists. So why do I like it, you ask? Well…It’s my worst fear realized. Anyone who knows me, also knows my irrational fear of moving to the suburbs, shooting out 2.5 kids and losing all the non child friendly facets of my personality. I could go on about this, replete with references to Bob the Builder and Pull-ups, but I’ll spare you.

The truth of the matter is, I’m like the Wheelers. I think I’m superior to suburban life. I know if I lived there, I would be so judgmental and snobbish towards any woman too exhausted for make up or any man who actually thought he'd enjoy being a father seven years into his marriage. I feel like if I ever do get married, it will probably be to someone who shares this opinion. And if we did get knocked up, and thought that the 'burbs were a better place to raise kids, we might move there, but with to the promise to one another not to change or be sucked in to the delusion. And wouldn't that be ironic if that happened? But it has yet to, so until that day comes, I'll continue to be smug.

Revolutionary Road is a great movie, one I felt was snubbed at this year's Oscars. Yeah, yeah, we've seen it all before, but I think there's a reason why movies like this keep popping up. I don't think it's just me that likes to feel superior...or at the very least, likes to be scared shitless and uses films such as these as horror movies. Anyway, I've decided to christen Revolutionary Road as my Official Sick Movie®™©. It might as well be. After all, it can only make you feel better about your own life.

Favorite Screencap

Frank and April's neighbors, Shep and Milly discuss the Wheelers' plan.

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