February 19, 2009

The Decay of the American Family

When this movie came out I wondered why director Sam Mendes, who previously won an Oscar for American Beauty, is fascinated with the decay of the American family. As in his previous movie, this is the underlying tone of Revolutionary Road. It's set in the 1950's and focuses on Frank and April Wheeler played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet respectively. They are the typical American working family: young, beautiful, successful, adorable kids, nice house, manicured lawns and friends in the same social class. To an outsider it's the perfect, enviable life.

As the story unravels, the audience sees that Frank Wheeler is stuck in a monotonous desk job while his wife, April is left at home to tend to the kids and the house. They have assimilated themselves into suburbia. In the meantime, you also realize that the couple, see themselves differently. They are unlike their neighbors......that they have a more exciting life.....or at lease deserve a far more exciting life......the movie skirts around this idea and it is only when the realization of the banality of their life sets in that things begin to unravel.

The movie is a delicate study of a family disintegrating before your eyes. Leonardo DiCaprio is extremely moving as a husband and father who wants to provide for his family and at the same time wants something more. He showed great depth as an actor in this role and it actually surprised me that he wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. Kate Winslet is sympathetic as a woman losing her sense of self in suburbia. I should also mention the very good Michael Shannon who plays John Givings, a supporting character who's frank comments made the Wheeler face there banal reality. I really liked the movie but it was really hard to sit through it as an audience member because as the movie approaches it's climax, it was difficult to watch 2 people tear each other apart. It is a movie with no redemption much like Mystic River. I remember having this very heavy feeling when the movie ended. I guess it was very effective because it made me feel that way but nonetheless, it was not a pleasant feeling to have.

(photo from Moviefone.com)


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