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Revolutionary Road: A Scenic and Unsettling Journey

When I first read Revolutionary Road, I thought it might be too multilayered to make a good movie. But I held out hope that Richard Yates's 1961 novel of suburban discontent could really triumph visually, with its lush '50s setting, dark humor, the awkward embarrassment of characters realizing life hasn't turned out the way they planned, and the quiet resentment that breeds.

When I heard Sam Mendes was directing with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio starring, I really yearned for this movie to be great — which probably explains why I was somewhat disappointed by an otherwise thoughtful film. To read my bittersweet reaction,


Revolutionary Road is incredibly artful, capturing the romance of the city, the seduction of the country, and the stifling effect either place can have on unfulfilled lives. DiCaprio and Winslet deliver aching performances as Frank and April Wheeler, two wannabe bohemians who feel obliged to move to the suburbs when their first kid arrives. As with the book, it's difficult to sympathize with the protagonists even as we identify with them; we resent them for how much they resent each other.

The novel chronicles the minute details of the Wheelers' lives from the moment they meet, and blessedly, Mendes makes some tough choices in order to keep his movie at two hours. It begins when the Wheelers are already settled with two kids, showing snippets of their younger selves in flashbacks. Some of the moments where Mendes chooses to linger — such as in the fastidiously drawn-out final scene — are brilliant. But other choices left me wanting more context. Even my boyfriend, who has not read the book, agreed: The movie is missing something to help us understand why the characters act the way they do.

It's easy to imagine how the book was totally unsettling when it was released, and the movie is not without haunting and hard-to-swallow realism. But suburban funk is such a common theme nowadays that we need to know the characters beyond broad strokes. For instance, Frank gets a job where his dad worked primarily because he appreciates the irony. This isn't explained in the movie, but for me, knowing how the Wheelers got themselves into this situation makes the story even more tragic. The heart-wrenching scenes of the couple arguing would be far more poignant if we knew them better. Thankfully, DiCaprio and Winslet can communicate on their faces what the script can't always say.

Photos courtesy of Paramount Vantage

Join The Conversation
telane telane 8 years
I liked this movie a lot, though I do agree something was missing. Kate Winslet had me very nervous/almost freaked out by her constant changes in personality. I think it was a great job done by those two, and I think I might be reading the book soon! :)
kikidawn kikidawn 8 years
I really really want to see this movie. But now I think I will read the book first. I think I'll go get it tomorrow and start reading it so I can have it done before the movie comes out.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 8 years
This movie was a bizarre combination of Titanic (superficially) and Mad Men (in terms of content). I didn't find it to be that well acted. I feel like there's a little bit of "it HAS to be good, it's got Kate and Leo!" going on. There were scenes when the acting was just downright terrible. I can see how it might be a compelling book though.
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 8 years
I want to see this movie, but I'll probably rent it. It looks too depressing to watch in theaters.
bebehaul24 bebehaul24 8 years
I read this book in November and i recommend it highly, it was really outstanding. I'm currently reading "The Easter Parade" also by Richard Yates and it is also a great read (too quick though--I want more!). I really want to see this movie--I don't think they could've cast better actors for the two main roles. I feel like since I read the book so recently that it'll mean more to me than anyone i can think of taking. maybe i'll just go on my own...
jessr1214 jessr1214 8 years
I really want to see this movie! But I'll have to read the book first...i cant read a book after seeing the movie because i just picture the movie in my head the whole time and it really detracts from my reading experience. BTW, is the Buzz book club still going on?
Dana18 Dana18 8 years
I really want to see this movie. I like Leo and Kate a lot. After I will read the book if I fell there is something missing. It is hard to create a movie from a book. The book has time to tell the whole story. In Hollywood if it is not less then two hours they do not want to tell the story.
mrsld mrsld 8 years
I read this book in college (ages ago). I never thought that it could be made into a proper movie. It is so detailed that I thought that the story would get lost or be bogged down. I may be biased b/c Leo is my favorite actor, but I thought this movie was excellent. It is a perfect balance, enough detail without being boring and long. The whole cast is amazing. I can see your point about the background info and think that more of Frank and April's childhoods could have been helpful but I don't think it was necessary. I will definitely be going to see this again when it comes to the theatre near my house. (Travelled an hour last time) Longhorn- Soo sorry for you. I can't believe people are soo insensitive.
longhornlass04 longhornlass04 8 years
It was really tough watching this movie in a filled theater. Since i knew how it ended, everything that lead up to that was jarring. However, i was shocked at how many people were laughing at some pretty horrible stuff. Not b/c they thought it was poorly executed, but b/c they thought it was funny. Mainly they laughed at John (of course, the actor did a great job at this unfiltered character) but mainly, they laughed when April and Frank were fighting. They laughed at lines like "i don't love you, and i'm not sure i ever did". I wish i had watched it alone :(
laceykk23 laceykk23 8 years
i just finished the book and it was a great read, def. recommended! cant wait till the movie plays everywhere at the end of the month!! thanks for the review!!
Renees3 Renees3 8 years
I didn't know what this was about all going into it and man it was a depressing movie. But I LOVED the crazy guy, he was such a great character
taylorbath taylorbath 8 years
I saw this movie and thought it was very good. Kate was great (as always) and I thought Leo's performance was just incredible. In the span of a moment his character moves from arrogant to earnest to heartbroken all with just his eyes and facial expressions. It's a devastating performance that just blew me away.
LaurenFSU LaurenFSU 8 years
I can't wait to see this movie! Leo and Kate have great chemistry.
Nan-Einhart Nan-Einhart 8 years
I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have read the book. I would recommend the reading of the book whether one can see the movie or not.
wren1 wren1 8 years
Great review. I really want to see this, and now I'm wondering if I should read the book first :ponder: I never read books after I see movies, and I wouldn't want to miss out on a great read.
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