Based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road is a cautionary tale against getting stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up. It's depressing, and I imagine that if you are actually stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up, it might be the kind of movie that would make you go home and kill yourself. But for those of us that are lucky enough to have our whole lives ahead of us with no child or mortgage to hold us back, the film's darkness can more or less be shed like be an old coat.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are back together for another round of tragedy—and once again, they're going down with a sinking ship. Here they play Frank and April Wheeler, a young suburban couple who think themselves above the rat race and the women's circle. In other words, they're convinced they're special—they just haven't figured out how yet.
The film opens on a mediocre-to-bad community theater production of The Petrified Forest, in which April does a mediocre-to-bad job with the lead role. The car ride home is a disaster, and the couple is at an impasse. She wants to mull on her own, he wants to talk it out, and what we get is an articulate screaming match on the side of the road as the Wheelers tear each other—and the life they've made together—apart. The crux of their unhappiness is that they harbor inner dreams of grandeur, but are realizing, before our eyes, that these aspirations are false. They are utterly normal; they are the lame suburban couple that they hate so much. As plans are hatched and desperate attempts to deal with themselves and each other are made, the whole movie—the whole story—is one big fight, really: a fight against each other, against mediocrity, against the circumstances that, chosen or not, led them to this place.
As directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Revolutionary Road is fantastic, tragedy and all. I had not read Yates' novel when I saw the film, but I did just after—in some masochistic turn, I couldn't get enough of the Wheelers' messed-up lives. Having read the novel, I see the film as more a complement to the book than a stand-alone project: You can see the movie without knowing anything about the book and love it; I did. But there are many scenes in which Mendes' camera stays on Frank's face—and for all of Leo's heroic acting, you still wonder what he's thinking. There is so much in Yates' book, so much going on inside these characters' heads, tiny observations of life and love and society—things that all inform the film, for sure, but really should be read in their original form. So see the movie and read the book (or read the book and see the movie), and then go find yourself and your passions. Because these two didn't, and it's a catastrophe.