Revolutionary Road: Ripping the Mask Off of Suburbia. Again.
At the time of its release, Sam Mendes's 1999 breakthrough film, American Beauty, was supposed to have ripped the placid mask off of suburbia. Nearly 10 years later, it looks more like an extended, unfunny sitcom episode. So it's not much of a surprise that Mendes has gone to a more durable source—Richard Yates's splendid, stately 1961 novel Revolutionary Road—to get the job done right. It almost works, too.
It's a pleasure to see Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio coming back together 11 years after Titanic to gauge their progress as actors. They've both improved, but DiCaprio still chews a bit too much, Brando-like, on his words; Winslet, with her great oceans of unspoken dialogue, is clearly the better of the two. And it's surprising to see Michael Shannon—literally the only reason to watch last year's ugly little film Bug—steal the show from both of them as a rage-filled man whose nonconformist ways get him sent to a mental institution.
But the problem is that every year around Oscar season, Hollywood dresses up like average people and puts on a caricature play of suburban life, and we know the score far too well at this point. There is sad, meaningless adultery. DiCaprio and Winslet relentlessly feud—from the very beginning of the film—in the kind of screaming, snot-splattered scenes that always wind up in Best Actor and Actress montages at awards shows. And you can throw all the money in the world at this sort of thing (the costumes and sets are beautiful), but without the soul of Yates's gorgeous language, it's only so much pretty whining. When you repeatedly rip the mask off of something—like, say, suburbia—you're not revealing anything: You're just playing peek-a-boo, and the only people who are consistently amused by games of peek-a-boo are children and imbeciles.