Monday, January 05, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Why does Kate Winslet always move out to the suburbs?

In almost every movie I see her in she’s living in a lovely house in Connecticut and is miserable.

First LITTLE CHILDREN and now in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Different eras (Rev Road is set in 1955, a good year for the Brooklyn Dodgers but not housewives) and different hubbies but the same despair, ennui, and property taxes exist. There was also ICE STORM, which was the same story but set in 1973. Kate was supposed to be in that one too but chose the other ice storm movie instead – TITANIC.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD paints 50s suburbia as a bleak, soulless hell with trimmed lawns. Everyone is having affairs with their neighbors; not out of something honorable like lust but out of desperation and boredom (and always in either cars or up against washing machines – don’t these bedroom communities have beds?). This is not how the 50s ‘burbs used to be portrayed. And it got me thinking – Was Ward Cleaver banging Lumpy Rutheford’s mom? Was Harriett Nelson and Thorny doing it in the service porch?

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a cold unsettling look at the American Dream. As always Kate gives an Oscar nomination-worthy performance. She’s had five so far. One day she’s got to win. And if not this year, there’s a project in development about a repressed neighborhood in the 80s. Leo DiCaprio was fine as the husband. All these articles rave about the chemistry between them. I didn’t see it. In fact, I was much more aroused when Kate was having her affair. I also thought, wow, there was a lot of legroom in those 55 Buicks.

Another title for the movie could have been APRIL IN PARIS. Kate played April who wanted to chuck the middle-class life and move the family to France. I won’t say any more because if I do I’ll not only spoil this movie but the last six episodes of MAD MEN.

For all the attention Kate & Leo are receiving, it is supporting actor Michael Shannon who absolutely steals the picture. He’s the crazy guy who cuts through all the bullshit. Suburbs always have one assigned crazy guy or pervert. And Shannon's sociopath would make any township proud.

Yes, there are metaphors, imagery, indictments on conformity, women’s role in society, an examination of marriage, incessant smoking and drinking along with obligatory sepia shots and leaves. I just wish I cared more.

I hope Kate wins her Oscar this year. If so, maybe the co-op board will let her buy that unit on Park Avenue. Just think, Katie – no lawns!

38 comments :

Wayne said...

I haven't yet seen Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road but I did see her in The Reader. So I don't know if which setting would be more bleak for her. The suburbs or the Nazi death camp.

I bet it's the suburbs because in the Reader, she's a Nazi Death camp guard who matures into a middle-aged woman who has sex with a 15 year boy. And she's filled with shame - over the fact she can't read.

That's why the suburbs would be more bleak. They have book clubs.

D. McEwan said...

I spent the 1950s living in a gorgeous upscale suburb, Palos Verdes Estates, California. I experienced no ennui nor despair. Of course, my ages from 1950 to 1960 were 0 to 10, so I experienced things like learning to walk, read (Neglected by Kate in THE READER), watching Soupy Sales and The Mickey Mouse Club, and feeling fullfilled by stuff like the original opening of Disneyland. I had no affairs until after puberty hit in 1963.

Neither did my parents have affairs, although I begged them to, so I'd have an excuse for acting out at school.

BUT, in the mid-1960s, one of my parents closest friends, a man who, with his wife, was in our house playing bridge every week, who was the superintendant of the Sunday School I was dragged to against my will, whose son I went to school with, committed suicide, so he was clearly experiencing despair.

40 years later his son told me the real reason his dad killed himself. (He had only recently learned it, as his mother had been lying to her sons about it for 40 years.) He had been embezzling from his firm to support his suburban lifestyle, and he's been caught - TWICE! The second time, restitution wasn't enough. They were going to prosecute this time.

Again, this man ran the Sunday School where he was teaching me stuff like The Ten Commandments, you know, all that "Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not commit false witness" crap, and Morality, and how to live a goodly life. The withering huypocracy of this thief and liar, who took the cowards way out, leaving his wife in the lurch (She still had to make restitution, and finish raising their kids alone.), running that Sunday School I fought my parents so hard to escape from, just delights me. How frustrating that I learned of it only after my parents were dead, and didn't have the opportunity to rub their noses in it.

Maybe there's something to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD thing after all.

Tiago said...

I don't usually comment, but I have to say this:
You make movie reviews that I can relate to. Thanks!

Rinaldo said...

Do two examples really constitute "every time"?

That aside, I too am always puzzles by the popular movie cliche that "suburbs = hypocrisy and secret despair" (see also American Beauty).

Granted that I may have missed the nuances as a kid, but my brothers and I grew up in 50s and 60s suburbia, and it didn't have any of the elements we see in these movies. I think Spielberg got it closer to right in E.T. -- it's a great environment to grow up in.

Joe said...

The movie looks "not funny" and therefore not worth my time or money.

I have spoken.

P.S. My WVW is "preds" i.e., Keds for expectant mothers.

Paul Duca said...

It was based on a book that was published in that era, so I presume it had some relevance to real people of the time.

Doug...this family friend who took his own life after being caught embezzling from his company--the SECOND time? Even if the firm was was willing to accept restitution over prosecution the first time it happened, I though the usual procedure was to terminate the person--and while it was decent of them to give the man another chance, shouldn't they at least transferred him to another position where he didn't have access to company funds?

Jayne said...

I always figured Ward Cleaver was an abusive husband (really, why else would June wear a dress and pearls to do housework and why were the boys always so worried about getting clobbered?) so he was definitely sleeping around. Probably with Miss Landers.

Vermonter17036 said...

I grew up in the ultimate suburb, Westport, Connecticut. And, you know what, it was nice. People were friendly. Most families were happy. I'm not sure where all this ennui crap comes from. Of course, now the town has become MacMansion City, which is why I now live in Vermont. I don't think Sam Mendes needs to expand his horizons a little.

Anonymous said...

"It was based on a book that was published in that era, so I presume it had some relevance to real people of the time."


That's not necessarily true. One of the smarter comments I've ever read was about how the modern image of the 1950s is almost exclusively formed by storytellers who were deeply alienated from and unhappy with the era. Imagine if 99% of the books and movies about the 1960s were created by hippie-hating conservatives and you might understand how the pop culture view of the 50s might be a bit distorted.

Mike

Emily Blake said...

I'm not sure who the audience is for this. Is it people who live in suburbs? Because a lot of those people were so offended by American Beauty they walked out.

Is it unmarried people? If I want to see a horror movie I'll rent Saw 436.

Leo no longer draws the kind of devoted girls he used to. Any girls looking for a date movie will pick that silly looking Bride Wars. It may be a fine film, I'm just not sure who will voluntarily see it. Maybe men who want to convince their girlfriends to stop pushing for marriage.

VP81955 said...

My family owned a '55 Buick (a black two-door Special with a red interior), and I recall it indeed had plenty of legroom...although I don't believe either of my parents used it for an affair, and my older sister didn't drive. (Then again, we were in Syracuse, N.Y., not suburban Connecticut -- although our neighborhood, while within the city limits, was a small-scale Levittown-type development of ranch houses.)

verification word: "colason." The bastard child of Coke, Pepsi or RC.

2nd verification word: "gocesses." Traveling way too fast.

A. Buck Short said...

As usual you've made this fun.

But what she really needs is one ‘o them revolutionary new bras Victoria’s Secret is coming out with every month. I don’t know how many revolutions a woman can take in a year, but finally figured out what they’re apparently overthrowing.

This is why Winslet was so good in Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke. In Australia the 50s were only 10 years ago.

And don’t forget about the cross streets. For a few hijinks, they could have gone a block north for a visit with the new neighbors, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack on Arlington Rd. Never a dull moment with those two. They’re a blast. Or Tobacco Road, where all those chain smoking Mad Ave. couples are finding a ton of real estate, because of all the subplots. But don’t look at me. We bought our little split level on that road to Perdition, because they said the schools were so good.

Now if you’re looking for another way I like to annoy. At improv, when anybody asks for an emotion, I always request suburban ennui. There really isn’t a hell of a lot worthwhile you can do with that.

Kirk Jusko said...

Around Oscar time, when the "serious" films get rolled out, the subject matter is often, almost always, repression. Yet these movies never take place in the present day. It's always either Victorian England or the 1950s. Why is that? There is noone now alive that remembers the reign of Queen Victoria, and while there's still plenty of people who remember the '50s, they're not the ones making these movies. If repression is a solved problem, why bother to explore it?

Of course, it's not a solved problem. Never will be. But the 21st century doesn't LOOK repressed, not with internet porn and naked movie stars calling to you from every magazine rack. Movies, being a visual medium, have to look backward.

Maybe someday some genius 21st century filmaker will figure out how to make a movie about repression that TAKES PLACE in the 21st century. Until then, maybe repression itself is repressed.

SharoneRosen said...

Saw it. Hated it. Hated them (the characters, not the actors). Couldn't figure out why the characters dated, much less married each other.

The psycho really was the most entertaining, if not squirm inducing, part of the movie.

Just saw 7 Pounds... so, what, they pitched I AM LEGEND but, without CG vampires????

j said...

Let the record show, Your Honors, that Miss Landers was quite hot.

Joe said...

P.S. The above comment is mine, I misfired.

Anonymous said...

Winslet fan though I am, her angst seemed heavy-handed to me. I was aware of the acting. I thought Leo was more convincing. But yes, the nut job stole it.

GregM said...

I wasn't a big fan, though I found the film more honest than the adults' scenes in "American Beauty." In order for the movie to work, two things had to happen that weren't happening:
1) We had to see them happy at the beginning. Sam Mendes inexplicably starts off with a painful seven-minute fight scene that leaves the story, and the actors, nowhere to go.
2) We had to believe they were going to go to Paris. Never thought that.

Also not the biggest fan of Michael Shannon's acting--thought he overplayed when he should have underplayed.

D. McEwan said...

"Paul Duca said...
Doug...this family friend who took his own life after being caught embezzling from his company--the SECOND time? Even if the firm was was willing to accept restitution over prosecution the first time it happened, I though the usual procedure was to terminate the person--and while it was decent of them to give the man another chance, shouldn't they at least transferred him to another position where he didn't have access to company funds?"

I don't even know what firm it was. I certainly can not answer for why they were so stupidly lenient the first time around. I would certainly have at least fired him. Clearly they wanted avoid the publicity of a trial, and probably didn't want stockholders to know. But I don't know why the left him near the cookie jar he'd already shown he couldn't keep his mitts out of, and so he did it again.

You're asking me questions I have no way of answering. The company decisions seem as dopey to me as they do to you.

"Emily Blake said...
It may be a fine film, I'm just not sure who will voluntarily see it. Maybe men who want to convince their girlfriends to stop pushing for marriage."

Extremely funny comment.

WV: unseque. When a talking head on TV decides to stay on the same topic after all.

Wayne said...

Not having seen Revolutionary Road, the question I have about the suburbs is "does Kate Winslet cope with the bleakness by getting naked?"

John said...

Isn't this about the 20th movie or so that goes with the theme "The 50s and/or the suburbs suck"? A cutting edge idea for about 1983 or so, but not now.

Tim W. said...

I think some of you are missing the point about many of those films set in the suburbs. Your defense of the suburbs was that it was a great place to grow up in. How many of you live there now? I think suburbs are like amusement parks. Great for kids, hell for adults. I grew up in a suburby type neighbourhood, but moved out as soon as I could. I enjoyed it as a kid, but as I got older, it lost it's appeal. And when we were looking for a house to buy, one of my criteria was `not in the suburbs'. Hell, neither of my parents (now divorced), nor any other member of my family live in the suburbs, now.

Tim W. said...

"Not having seen Revolutionary Road, the question I have about the suburbs is "does Kate Winslet cope with the bleakness by getting naked?""

If so, I'd love to be her traveling companion to Flint, Michigan.

charlotte said...

"I think Spielberg got it closer to right in E.T. -- it's a great environment to grow up in."

Rinaldo: In E.T., hadn't the father bailed on his wife and 3 kids?

Anonymous said...

Ken, Ken, Ken....I dragged my beloved over to the Laemmle in Santa Monica Sunday night for a date night. Ooouuchhhhhh.
Michael Shannon. Yes indeed. I hope he gets a best supporting. he deserves it!
It didn't help that my better half smoked some medicinal weed before the film.
Rather than Leo, I woulda liked Clive Owen. And Kate was great as always nut I maybe woulda liked the other Cate, as in Blanchett.
And every time I see Kathy Bates, I think of her takin' it to James Caan's feet, a hobblin' all the way. Her hubby in Revolutionary Road and her son in same aka Michael Shannon were great! Gimme Kate's white dress and I want the blue one too! Ciggggarettes aplenty.

jbryant said...

The best suburban ennui film was maybe the first -- No Down Payment in 1957. Tony Randall as an alcoholic used car salesman! Pat Hingle, Barbara Rush, Joanne Woodward, Jeffrey Hunter, Cameron Mitchell, Sheree North, Patricia Owens. Everything you ever wanted to know about 50s America and its attitudes toward success, work, gender, sex, alcohol, religion and race via the intersecting lives of four couples. Great stuff, but not on DVD. Pops up on Fox Movie Channel occasionally. Worth keeping an eye out for.

jbryant said...

I'm with Kirk - if we must have more suburbia bashing, let's at least keep it in the current century. We kinda get it about the '50s at this point.

But the "lies" of the media hit some people hard. Personally, I never thought Leave it to Beaver was a documentary, just a funny show about recognizable human behavior (okay, except maybe for vacuuming in pearls), so I didn't sink into despair when I realized that it ignored infidelity, racism, alcohol abuse and McCarthyism. So many missed opportunities for Very Special Episodes! :)

WV: Trounto - the Lone Ranger's fishing buddy.

Sam Thornton said...

APRIL IN PARIS. Great title but wrong Paris. April should douse her suburban ennui by pulling up stakes and moving to Paris, Texas. Now there's a movie I'd pay to see. Assuming there were plenty of spit-takes.

Lionel Trilling said...

Richard Yates, the author of Revolutionary Road, based some of the novel on his first marriage. He was not a happy man. Some call him a writer's writer. He may have been overshadowed by John Updike. Interestingly, Yates did a stint of speechwriting for RFK.
Interesting Trivia: At one point one of Yate's daughters, Monica, was dating Larry David. She and Larry had dinner with Yates who terrified David. This became part of the Seinfeld episode where the gang has dinner with Elaine's father (and Jerry turns his leather jacket inside out because it's raining).
Blake Bailey wrote an excellent Yate's bio a couple years ago. Great book, even if you don't know Yate's fiction. (Maybe THAT should have been the movie...)

Joe said...

Miss Landers was eleventy gazillion times hotter than Kate Winslet.

And, yeah, the suburbs suck. We get it. Can we move the bashing to gated communities? Condos? Co-ops?

AND!

My WVW is "purtedic." This joke tells itself.

-bee said...

this is filled with SPOILERS about Revolutionary Road, so be forewarned...

I think many are making the error with this film in thinking that the characters and their prejudices are defacto 'spokespeople' for the (in this case) filmmakers POV.

I really don't see the film's primary intent as being to attack the 'evil' suburbs.

The film begins with Kate's character pretty conclusively failing at her dreams of being an artist (actress) and THIS is the touchstone of the entire fllm - her increasingly frustrated efforts to use her husband as a proxy for her failed ambitions and her husband's complete inability to comprehend this (and her inability to communicate this to HIM).

I more see her character's hatred of the suburbs as being part of her frustration with herself. It is important for her that her husband hate the suburbs too insofar if he gets complacent, he will never fulfill HER dreams of some achieving sort of 'greatness'.

Not that the suburbs are completely shown as being a POSITIVE force - there is definitely 'the nail that sticks up must be hammered down' element here - which is a major factor in sending Kate's character round the bend.

I actually see the Mike Shannon character as not being the 'reasonable voice of suburban-hatred' so much as he offers a mirror version of what Kate could become if she continues to try to make do with thing as they are (likely with well-intentioned psychiatrists trying to 'cure' her unhappiness via shock treatments). It is because he is so much LIKE her that he is able to really cut through her defenses (and not exactly with positive results).

I see the surface beauty of the particular suburb serving as a comment on the beauty of Kate's character. What she seems to be on the surface to others is a complete misrepresentation of what she really is - pretty much a f*cked up monster who is yet (to me at least) a pitiful victim to her illusions.

As for Leo, his character is a charming, shallow guy who gets swept up and away in her whirlwind - seeming to never really understand what happened and left to forever try to figure out WHAT he could have done to make things turn out differently.

Until this film, I was not a huge fan of Sam Mendes' films - actually, I think "American Beauty" was kind of the facile attack on the suburbs that THIS film is now being accused of being.

But while some of Kate's speeches were overwritten and gave the impression of being too on the nose (although in retrospect I think maybe they were not), at least for me, I ultimately found the film ultimately very affecting and sad.

David K. M. Klaus said...

charlotte said:


> In E.T., hadn't the
> father bailed on his wife and 3
> kids?


Not only had the bastard done that, he took his new girlfriend on a trip to Mexico which he evidently had promised his wife and young daughter but failed to follow through with.

(Excuse me, but men who run out on their kids are among the scummiest scum on our planet. Real Men take care of their children.)

******

V-word: distall -- What the restaurant distaff does when didinner for the customers is running late.

David K. M. Klaus said...

P. S.: Mr. McEwan, for what it may be worth, your anger at your religion teacher who abandoned his wife and family through suicide rather than pay the price for his crime strikes me as perfectly reasonable and justified. Yes, he did take the coward's way out.

Hamasara said...

bee -

I think that was one of the most genuinely accurate analysis of Revolutionary Road that I have yet to hear.

travelgirl said...

actually, in "little children"...it's not the suburbs in connecticut - it's massachusetts. i just wanted to point that out.

Bitsy Parker said...

I want to know where I can buy those high waist shorts she wears at the beach.

Anonymous said...

I didn't connect Kate's dilemma to the suburbs, the era or her situation. I saw it more of an existential crisis...trying to break free from the chains of what is expected, trying to leave the ant-like trail and do something meaningful. Being truly alive is hard in this world, both back then and today the same. I watch my mother attempt to convince my father to up and leave all the time. I can tell she feels as though she is missing something in her life. I don't blame her.

icegirl said...

Bettina said...
One could argue that simply watching Leo makes the movie awesome. Personally I could even enjoy a silent movie with him. To the point now, I doubt that the movie aims to point out how life was in the American suburbs in the 50s...well, partially, but I see the main point more in descripting how a men-woman relationships looks like in real, not necessarily meaning just marriages now. It shows how it differs when a woman and a man loves.because they both seemed to truly love each other. well,the only way she could be happy, was to make HIM happy, i think this is why she wanted to move so much. to make HIM happy and by that herself. He was the priority for her. However, Leo, or any other man, places himself on the first position and doesnt really care whether his wife feels like killing herself...