I’m giving this movie a cautious recommendation because it is well-written, well-acted and thought-provoking. The reason for caution is that it requires spending 119 minutes with some very unlikeable characters.
Revolutionary Road is the story of an unhappy couple living in a Connecticut suburb in the 1950s. At first it looks like a standard Hollywood condemnation of suburban life, but it quickly becomes clear that in this case the suburbs did not make these people unhappy; they brought their unhappiness with them.
I remember reading about a sixth-grade class whose members all said they wanted to be “celebrities” when they grew up, but none of them were able to explain what they planned to do to become famous. Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the grown-up version of one of these kids. He has always talked a good line about wanting to live an unconventional, exciting life, but at age 30 he finds himself living in a boring suburb and working at an office job that he hates. He has no idea what else he might want to do with his life, but he has a vague disgruntled feeling that he is better than his vapid neighbors and annoying coworkers.
His wife April (Kate Winslet) had a more specific dream: she wanted to be an actress. However she has been forced to confront the fact that she has no talent and no future in acting. She and Frank deal with their disillusionment by tearing each other apart and making each other miserable.
(Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, eh? Is this how they would have ended up if the Titanic hadn’t sunk?)
April comes up with a brilliant plan to escape the trap of their lives, and convinces Frank to go along. They’ll sell the house and move to Paris, where April will support Frank while he finds himself and comes up with the brilliant career that will make him the important man she always thought he would be. I’m don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I suggest that this probably isn’t going to end well.
The odd thing is that Frank, the putative villain of the piece, seems to take stock of his life and grow up a bit by the end of the movie. Not that this really makes him sympathetic. He does too many awful things, and in any case he hardly deserves a medal for growing up at age 30.
It’s made pretty clear that all of the other characters, the neighbors and coworkers, are suffering from the same sort of despair, but just handle it in ways that appear less destructive. The only one who is willing to tell the truth and upset everybody is a crazy man (Michael Shannon) who presumably speaks for the author.
If this were a story about people who tried hard to achieve their dreams and failed, it might be powerful and tragic. But a vague feeling that you are better than the people around you hardly qualifies as a dream. This is more a story about shallow people who mess up their lives because they can’t accept that they are shallow. It’s almost funny in a sick sort of way.