Did you ever hear the one about how beneath those postcard-perfect shiny surfaces, the suburbs are actually barren wastelands of dysfunction? Oh, yeah--everybody's heard that one.
Based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel, this phenomenally dull new film from director Sam Mendes has absolutely nothing new to say, yet says it loud and insistently anyway. In a fiendish bit of stunt casting, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunite for the first time since a certain fateful boat trip 11 years ago, starring here as Frank and April Wheeler, a tedious married couple prone to squabbling at great length about the tragic soul-crushing emptiness of their giant house, fancy car and beautiful children. The Wheelers feel so suffocated by their affluence and good fortune, it's all they really talk about.
Nobody hipped Mendes and co. to the fact that right now might not be the most opportune time to release a movie in which wealthy people sit around bitching about how hard they've got it. But this sort of suburban malaise has indeed been chronicled quite eloquently in the past, in everything from John Cassavetes' Faces to Ang Lee's The Ice Storm. (Mad Men accomplishes more in any given scene than Revolutionary Road can muster in two hours.)
Hell, even Mendes already took a facile whack at this business with American Beauty, and Kate Winslet delivered a stunning performance as a stifled housewife two years ago, in Little Children.
But here we go again anyway, and what separates Revolutionary Road from those other flicks is its complete absence of humor, characterization or story. Kate and Leo just stand around shouting the subtext at one another, mired in that typical Mendes swamp of gloss wherein every shot looks like a picture from a coffee-table book.
Baby-faced DiCaprio is laughably miscast as a suburban dad. No matter how many eye-rolling and eyebrow-raising Jack Nicholson- isms he drops into the performance, the kid still looks like he's playing dress-up in his father's suit. Winslet, normally one of the finest actresses of our generation, is shrill and over-modulated. But you can't really fault the performers, as there's no behavior to play here--Frank and April are just abstract vehicles for dated social commentary.
Revolutionary Road might work best as a sick joke, aimed at couples who went to see Titanic on a first date and now find themselves married and as miserable as Frank and April Wheeler. Otherwise, I can't imagine any reason for it to exist.
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman headline an all-Australian cast as a British aristocrat and a cattle driver named Drover, respectively. The two fall ever so reluctantly in love. Upon flying south to sell an inherited ranch in the middle of the Outback, Kidman gets embroiled in a scheme to shortchange her, if not outright kill her, involving a meat baron (Bryan Brown) and a sniveling baddie (David Wenham). D+
Adam Sandler and the chick from Felicity star in this children's film about tall tales coming true. (Not reviewed.)
A cute puppydog (voiced by John Travolta) thinks he's a superhero. (Not reviewed.)
This star-studded early R&B saga should be a nice holiday treat--at least until you discover it's one of those goddamn, plodding musical biopics, the kind that Walk Hard should've rendered obsolete. C+
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"