Monday, April 06, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Skin Deep Smile

It's been some twelve years since James Cameron's Titanic sealed Leonardo DiCaprio's heartthrob status, and everyone's been wondering when DiCaprio and his co-star Kate Winslet would once again grace the screen together with that kind of onscreen chemistry and magic that made thousands relive that cross-atlantic adventure tragedy over and over again, effectively retiring James Cameron (until this year of course with his 3D film Avatar) since the film powered past a billion dollars in box office receipts.

With tongue in cheek, I thought this Sam Mendes movie offered audiences a peek into how Jack Dawson and Rose's lives would have been, should they live through that night to remember together, and settle down in the USA. The free-spirited Dawson would find his life now quite the bore as compared to his free-wheeling days of a drifter, now rooted to a nine to five job he doesn't believe in, and lives his life like a robot only to pay the bills. As for Rose, she being stuck at home as a housewife also doesn't seem like the life she thought she signed on for, with the realities of matrimony settling in to demolish notions of a once daring romance.

Leonardo DiCaprio reunites with Kate Winslet (and Kathy Bates too!) in Revolutionary Road, that on the surface looks at how the familiar has crept into the lives of a married couple, and beneath the veneer and belief of their neighbours, theirs is a union slowly disintegrating, not that they do not try, but probably tried too hard, and where indifference start to rear its ugly head to destroy passion and love. We see how both do things that will ultimately hurt and betray the sliver of trust that's left, and how each manipulates the other in subtle ways in order to get what they think they want.

The bulk of the film was centred around their joint decision to uproot their family (and the children whom we rarely see) and move to Paris, so that DiCaprio's Frank would be able to live out his dream, of finding out his true calling. This would mean selling all their assets, crossing the steamship the other way round (which I chuckled at, and wonder if we're really going to see that at all), and having his wife support him (because the Europeans pay secretaries exorbitant salaries) while he mucks around for inspiration to life. This would also mean bidding Sayonara to his dead end job, until Murphy so decides to throw a spanner in the works with Frank gaining much needed recognition. It's also down to how we like to view ourselves as special, when in actual fact there isn't anything remotely remarkable as we lead our lives the way it's easiest too, and sometimes bragging about the miniscule differences that we make in the mediocre and the mundane, just so to try and let others see green.

Kate Winslet's April seemed to be the all-sacrificing wife, until her frequent breakdowns seem to cast doubts on her sanity, having to fight like mad with her husband, only to put on a more cordial front every morning at breakfast. One can only guess that she's doing her best to keep things from breaking down, but there's only a limit to how many holes you can plug with your fingers. In fact, the film develops at a pace with which paint dries, and comes alive only when Frank and April trade verbal blows, with hurting insults flying both directions with the threat of physical violence always close by.

It's about the hypocrisy that we are aware of, yet choose to play the social charade and getting a kick out of laughing at the ridiculousness of it all behind closed doors, behind other people's backs. The games we play with the intention to hurt will sometimes backfire on ourselves too, and it's almost always never a good thing to be doing something to hit back at the other person, one whom you know you love. But rectifying it head on also means that it's time to give it up, but preferably done so in a more civil manner compared to dropping the bombshell and hoping for an expected reaction.

Perhaps in the madness of it all, it takes an ex-mental patient character John (played by Michael Shannon) to become the voice of reason in an insanely fake world that both Frank and April find themselves in. In being crazy, he's granted the excuse to cut through the nonsense and say things as he sees fit, and has some of the best lines in the movie but also being the most accurate in the reading of the characters' expressions. If you think both Frank and April have words that hurt, pay attention to the wise sayings of John.

Based on a novel by Richard Yates, Sam Mandes managed to bring out the best in the chemistry between his two leading stars. Between them, age has not been kind to Winslet, while the additional lines on DiCaprio's face makes him all the more mature, though retaining his baby-faced looks that even made it to the insults their character trades.

Just when everything starts to meander around the themes it set out to explore, and treading in dangerous ground in being too convuluted for its own good, the parting shot was quite verbose in summing everything up quite nicely, in that it pays to switch off at times, or most of the times if you will, in order to keep things as status quo without the opportunity of being misread that you're uncooperative, or unwilling to lend a listening ear. Very poignant, and chillingly real.

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