Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Women of Revolutionary Road

~Warning - Spoilers involved for Revolutionary Road. Sorry, but it was essential for the entry~

Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road doesn't exactly paint any of its characters with flattering colours, but I thought it was particularly strong when it came to the female characters, didn't you? Oh sure, the men aren't the loveliest creatures but Leonardo DiCaprio's Frank is angry and has violent outbursts are all down to be merely naive and under the desire to give his family a better life. Oh sure, Michael Shannon's John is on day release from the loony farm, but he's "the only one" who actually understands it all. The crazy one is the sanest of them all as they say. And Richard Easton's Mr Givings is nothing more than a result of his tumultuous home life.

The women of the film, however, don't get off so easily. Take Kate Winslet's April Wheeler. She comes off as incredibly selfish, eternally miserable and mentally unstable (but in an unglamourous way, unlike Michael Shannon) in her feverish determination to move to Paris whilst uprooting her entire family due to her unending unhappiness. She portrayed as manipulative and always (deliberately, I felt) misinterpreting the childish defensive arguments of her husband Frank (DiCaprio).

The final scenes of the movie where she performs her own abortion - an act she seems to know will be the death of her - are particularly cruel towards April. Mere minutes after dying in a strangely anticlimactic hospital sequence between DiCaprio and David Harbour, Frank is seen taking dutiful care of the children that he not once even looked at when Winslet was around. It wasn't their suburban life that was keeping him down, but was her!

Or what about Kathy Bates' Helen Givings? Throughout the movie, whenever she sporadically appears, she comes off as loopy and - oh dear - quirky. Even when her son is nearly attacked all she can come up with is a relatively weak "he's not well!" That she was the one who turned her son into a crazy person is underlined in the final scene, I felt. Not even her husband can stand to be around her, tuning her out (literally and figuratively).

Kathryn Hahn's Milley Campbell is a strange character indeed. She is the stereotypical 1950s housewife, much like her husband is the stereotypical 1950s husband, but where they differ is that Milley is laughed at for being a ditzy and hysterical dolt. Her perma-smile fronting the fact that she has no opinion on anything whatsoever. And Zoe Kazan's secretary character of Maureen Grube doesn't come off as anything but a gossiping idiot.

I just found it all incredibly strange. The men weren't portrayed well - Dylan Baker's character comes off particularly bad - but their actions feel like mere shrugs compared to the daftness of the women. Does one of them have any positive aspect about them? I don't think so. Winslet's April doesn't even seem like a good mother and her philandering seems particularly more spiteful than Frank's (surely the point).

You probably think that I didn't like the movie. Not the case. While I think the portrayal of its characters is bizarre and I'm not exactly sure why we're meant to care about any of them in the slightest, I did think Mendes did a good job of somehow making them palatable (well, except for Bates. That was just strange.) The film looks gorgeous - that shot of Winslet disappearing into the forest, and later the shot of Winslet in the window are particularly memorable - and the acting definitely helps the film's cyclical pattern work. I feel positive towards the film, if negative towards some of the aspects that, perhaps, were not the filmmaker's fault. Does that make sense? B-

I'd also like to mention that I saw this in cinema three at Kino in Melbourne. I make special mention of the cinema because I think the speakers are busted. As repetitive and perfunctory as Thomas Newman's score was, it was made worse by the distortion that all-too-frequently crept in during moments of bass. Poor form, Kino!


Joel said...

Maybe it wasn't the speakers at all, but rather your ears trying to reject such a terrible score?

And I'd probably agree with your rating. It's good, just not great and considering that talent involved, that's kinda disappointing.

crossoverman said...

I really did not feel that about April at all - certainly not that she was deliberately manipulative. She was clearly suffering from some kind of depression and was trying everything she could to change herself and her environment to make herself feel better. Part of that comes from some obligation she feels toward her family, but I honestly did not think she was as scheming as you suggest. In fact Frank's insistence to talk about everything seemed more manipulative, as if he was trying to trip her up or hound her until he heard what he wanted to hear.

I happen to think the lead characters are very well drawn, given equal time - and it was impossible for me to take sides. But in the end I think I felt more sorry for April who was a victim of the age she lived in, where Frank had lots of opportunity but no motivation to take any of it on.

The neighbours were drawn more simply, I agree - but that was in contrast to the so-called "perfect" Wheelers. And I don't think of Kathy Bates' character had a lot of depth, but I don't really see her as yet another example of poorly drawn women in the film as you do. Certainly her outward quirkiness is belied by the final scene where she talks of the Wheelers in a derogatory way - all through hindsight and not through anything she seemed to ever really think; condemning them for their hard lives rather than accepting that things aren't always perfect. She doesn't even recognise the real problems in her own marriage!

So, no, I didn't think there was a problem with the women of Revolutionary Road.

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