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Once More With That Sinking Feeling

MOVIE REVIEW
Revolutionary Road (2008)

RR-04941R-1
Francois Duhamel/Dreamworks Pictures

On the 11th anniversary of “Titanic,” Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have teamed up again. Yes, our hearts will go on. Their new collaboration, an adaptation of Richard Yates’s novel “Revolutionary Road,” is an appropriately karmic sequel of sorts to the 1997 James Cameron classic: Mr. DiCaprio is Frank, a king-of-the-world-esque cocky wunderkind typewriter salesman. Ms. Winslet’s character April is, um, quite a dish. This time they are married with two children, and discovering that 1950s suburbia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They seek solace in adultery of the near-far-wherever-you-aren’t variety. Things start looking up when they plan to sail across the Atlantic and escape to the brave new world that is Paris. But upon learning that April is pregnant with yet another child, Frank has second thoughts and opts for a big fat promotion at work instead – understandable really, given what happened on that last cruise. Although the couple never actually embarks this time, one of them sinks while the other one swims all the same.

Sam Mendes – otherwise known to as Mr. Winslet – here revisits the American suburban ennui, from which he mined and dug up Oscar gold on a previous expedition. But “Revolutionary Road” is more reminiscent of Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm” than Mr. Mendes’s own “American Beauty.” Granted, Yates’s novel clearly inspired Rick Moody in writing “The Ice Storm.” Coincidentally, both big-screen adaptations are totally devoid of the satirical irony that made the source novels so revered in the first place. “American Beauty” at least seemed ironic because of the pseudo-whimsical score. Without it, “Revolutionary Road” reveals Mr. Mendes to be every bit as mind-numbingly middling as Mr. Lee. But judging from a post-screening Q&A session, Mr. Mendes at least has an idea what he should be going for even though he ultimately fails.

Special shout out to critic Phillip Lopate, who conducted the said Q&A: Mr. Lopate was clearly uninterested in what Mr. Mendes had to say, and concluded the interview while Mr. Mendes was continuing to field questions. But for the rest of us, to say the Q&A session was stimulating compared to most press junkets would be an understatement. (Thank god nobody asked an Oscar-related question before Golden Globes nominations were even announced.) Mr. Lopate, nobody cares if you read Yates or spotted Mr. Mendes’s homage to the 1939 documentary “The City” by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke. During the 30-minute session, you never thought to ask the “Titanic” question even though this film was clearly begging for it. Aside from the big-screen reunion of Mr. DiCaprio and Ms. Winslet, “Revolutionary Road” also boasts Kathy Bates as a meddling realtor. The “Titanic” reference is so obviously not a coincidence, that it takes a real hack to ignore it.

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