Ah the joys of relationships. The flutter of the heart at the early meetings. The gentle expansion of feelings. The rosey complexion that comes from spending time with the one you love. And the slow decline into seething anger and resentment that makes you not only hate your partner with a fiery passion, but hate yourself and your entire life too.
That’s the picture Revolutionary Road paints for you. As Slumdog has been advertised as a “feel-good hit”, Rev Road could surely be summarised as a “kill-yourself punch”. It is essentially two hours watching people argue, and if you think it’s only the one dysfunctional couple in trouble, there are a few other examples of how miserable your life can become - either through forced and pained ignorance or bitter acceptance.
Of course there’s a little more to it than that. Titanic sweethearts Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio return to the screen together, perhaps showing what might have happened if she didn’t selfishly use all the door for a raft and they’d have been given the chance to be together. They play the feisty Wheelers, a couple who always planned not to get stuck in the family rut and mocked those that did, until several years down the line they realised they were rutted just as much as the next guy. Might I point out that their “rut” involves a nice house, nice neighbourhood, and two “nice” children (nice in the sense that they’re literally never around – seriously, where are their children?!) So this terrible woe they feel and bicker over is purely self indulgent. Boo hoo I’m in a nice house. Boo hoo we have reproduced and can afford to look after them. Boo bloody hoo.
You can sense the reasoning behind some of it, though. Life is, after-all, utterly depressing if you think about it too much. It’s the reason why things like money, houses and children are fairly useful – they’re things to strive for and distract from the thought that life is slowly ticking by. Unfortunately for the Wheelers, the penny has dropped that “this is it” and it has resulted in their relationship imploding. Watching the devastation that follows is both uncomfortable and hilarious, Kate and Leo throwing themselves into the slanging matches with gusto. Being an Oscar aimer, there’s lots and lots of Acting, particularly from Kate who sometimes takes a moment just to stare out the window and have a good ol’ Act for a while, before continuing on. Director Sam Mendes’ static approach makes it feel like you’re watching a play at times, which does work on some aspects (letting the explosive arguments speak for themselves) but creates a starched tone in others, distancing you from the characters.
Though the fire between the two leads is engrossing at times, there are a few niggles with this film. The plot is bone-dry, probably left that way to let lots of Acting in and comments on attitudes towards life etc, but with no real depth given to any of the characters it chunders along and leaves you with a bit of a “so what?” feel (if you can push aside the great feeling of despair it conjures). There is also a ridiculous character – just out of a mental hospital, and therefore happy to speak his mind - shoe-horned in to let the simpler audience members know what’s really going on in our leads minds. And the endless score, seemingly composed of only three piano notes, does start to grate after a while.
Still, superb performances mean it’s often riveting, if not dramatic, and will carry you towards the end with a building sense of dread at what’s to come. But how to score this has posed a problem – though it was finely acted, it’s difficult to recommend a “kill-yourself punch” to someone. Therefore it hits the “good film” jackpot of a CF0, but doesn’t gain any further points as I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend it to anyone, unless I know someone who wants to mock people in relationships.