- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

“Revolutionary Road” tells the tale of Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), a swinging pair from the “greatest generation” who move out of New York City and into the suburbs after April gets knocked up. Big house, two kids and a car: Frank and April have it all.

Oh, silly viewer. Who could possibly want the American dream?

Roiling underneath the superficial happiness is a seething resentment of the - shudder - normalcy of their life. They were supposed to be better than this, at least in April’s mind’s eye. She was supposed to be an actress, and he was supposed to be some sort of Ernest Hemingway expat type. How could their lives have turned out so terribly … average?

The pair decide Frank should quit his job, pack up the family, hit the road and head to Europe. She’s going to work as a government secretary; he’s going to “find himself.” Look at how the neighbors gawk! Their little minds are breaking under the strain of all this nonconformity. How dare the Wheelers question their happy little world?

“Revolutionary Road” isn’t a bad film, exactly. It’s dark, but it knows to add humor lest things get too heavy. Miss Winslet disappears into her role of unhappy housewife, and it’s no wonder she is getting some award consideration for this performance. The weary angst she brings to the role isn’t necessarily a revelation, but it’s a believable take on a woman fed up with her life.

Mr. DiCaprio is a great actor, one of the best young talents working today. He always has looked boyish, but it’s not typically a distraction - he was totally believable as the CIA field agent in “Body of Lies.” His baby face really hurts him in this movie, however; it’s hard to see him as a scotch-chugging cubicle monkey with two children and a third on the way. He wouldn’t quite fit in on the set of “Mad Men.”

It doesn’t help that director Sam Mendes appears to have lost control of Mr. DiCaprio at some point during filming. He does too much, overacting with abandon, almost being a caricature of the stereotypical ‘50s businessman.

Mr. Mendes burst onto the scene with “American Beauty,” his and writer Alan Ball’s tale of suburban ennui and existential angst. That movie and “Revolutionary Road” share some thematic points, primarily the “hopeless emptiness” - as Frank puts it - of working a job one hates only to support one’s family.

The big difference between the two movies is generational. The Wheelers are firmly entrenched in the “greatest generation”: Frank is a World War II vet who takes a nice office job and a house in some anonymous Levittown. “American Beauty’s” Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) was a baby boomer/Gen Xer, a mirror for Mr. Mendes, generationally speaking.

It wasn’t too surprising for audiences that a boomer like Lester would succumb to personal gratification at the expense of his family; one doesn’t expect much more from that self-absorbed generation. However, to see a guy who lived through the Great Depression and World War II behave the same way? Now that’s shocking.

The goal here is a subtle one: The film’s authors are making the argument that the idea of a greatest generation of stoic happiness is a lie. Every generation hates life; the boomers simply were the first to be honest about it. Family responsibilities should always come second to personal happiness, or tragedy will result.

The psychological term for this is projection; the critical term is nonsense on stilts. It’s telling that the Wheelers’ children are rarely seen and even more rarely heard. They’re little more than props crafted by the art director to stifle the personal fulfillment of Frank and April.

Surely there’s a balance to be struck between familial obligations and personal exploration, but this film doesn’t bother looking for it. “Revolutionary Road” is content to stick with hoary cliches about the emptiness of middle-class bourgeois life.

STARS: TWO (**)

Title: “Revolutionary Road”

Rating: R (Language and some sexual content/nudity)

Credits: Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Justin Haythe.

Running Time: 119 minutes

Web Site: www.revolutionaryroad movie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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