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Revolutionary Road
Isn't exactly a feel-good romp.
Revolutionary Road
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet Star in "Revolutionary Road."
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $34,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

October 6th, 2008: A young couple living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s struggle to come to terms with their personal problems while trying to raise their two children. Based on a novel by Richard Yates.

What to Expect: How successful was "Titanic?" Well, it is still the all-time box office champ, resisting all threats to its throne. Its images, dialogue and characters have become iconic. Its music is indelibly etched in the brains of everyone alive in America in 1997. But a truly telling measure of the enduring appeal of "Titanic" is that it's a significant component of the marketing strategy for Sam Mendes' new film "Revolutionary Road," which reunites "Titanic" stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, with Kathy Bates thrown in for no extra charge. It's pretty amazing when the mere reassembling of the cast from a decade-old film can be used to promote a new film that has no other connection to it.

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"Revolutionary Road" may need all the help it can get. Putting aside all questions of quality, the film is undoubtedly a tough sell. It's a period drama based on a very depressing book which lacks a happy ending (assuming that the film will not deviate from the book's ending). While DiCaprio and Winslet are bona fide A-list stars with proven track records, the movie isn't exactly a feel-good romp. There is, of course, a sizable audience for well-made drama even if it isn't shiny-happy, but commercial success is difficult for films that challenge an audience's minds and present them with unflinching examinations of humanity.

If nothing else, this is a film that's been a long time coming. The book upon which it's based, the debut novel of author Richard Yates, was published in 1961 to great critical acclaim. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and is still a cultish favorite, especially among writers and students of that craft. It's not a book they teach in schools or one that's part of the vocabulary of pop culture, but it is an important work of literature that Time magazine named one of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century. The story is an unflinching study of the disintegration of a marriage amidst unrealized dreams and unsatisfied ambitions. Frank and April Wheeler, a pair of young suburbanites with two small children, are disenchanted with the 1955 suburban existence they've fallen into and chafe against mid-century conformity. April hatches a daring plan to move to Paris and flee their lives of quiet desperation, but their marriage degenerates into a hell of arguments, indifference and finally tragedy.

Okay, so I wasn't kidding about the somber tone. But it's hardly a new theme for Hollywood. Films such as "Little Children" (also starring Winslet), "Ordinary People" and "The Ice Storm" have all explored the theme of suburban angst, and Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven" has even done the suburban-angst-in-the-1950s theme. Directors and writers love that whole chafing-against-conformity idea, but do audiences? All four films cited above were critical darlings, but only Robert Redford's "Ordinary People" was a box-office success, grossing $54 million in 1980, a fact that can probably be attributed to audience's curiosity about Mary Tyler Moore's performance as opposed to their desire to see films about suburban angst. Neither "Little Children" nor "The Ice Storm" broke $10 million, and "Far From Heaven" made back its $13.5 million budget, but just barely. So what does this mean for "Revolutionary Road?" Well, it means that people probably won't go to see mid-century suburbanites argue and throw things at each other, but the success of "Ordinary People" means that they might go if they want to see their favorite stars, and here is where the DiCaprio-Winslet team may enable this film to succeed commercially.

Since starring in "Titanic," both actors have had successful careers, both critically and commercially, although both were admittedly well established before their watery voyage. DiCaprio has been nominated for three Oscars, two of which were after "Titanic," for which he was famously not nominated. Winslet has been nominated a whopping five times, including once for "Titanic" and one nomination before that film. She has made more films since "Titanic" than DiCaprio, twenty-one to his fifteen, although his films have made far more money than hers. Winslet has been the darling of the independent film scene for many years, eschewing more commercial films, while DiCaprio's career really took off when he became the favorite leading man of Martin Scorsese, with whom he has made three films, "Gangs of New York," "The Departed" and "The Aviator," the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

As for the director, Sam Mendes, there's an interesting career for you. He burst onto the film scene with his directorial debut, no less a film than "American Beauty," and followed it up with "Road to Perdition," "Jarhead" and now this film. He is something of an enigma in that he is an A-list British director who has never directed a film in the UK. Mendes has stated that he has directed only American films not by design, but through sheer chance; his decisions were based on the projects that appealed to him at the time. The happy casting of this film (happy from a marketing standpoint, that is) may be due to Mendes' wife...Kate Winslet. She and DiCaprio have remained close since filming "Titanic," in fact she describes him as her best friend, and in order to get him to sign for the film, she arranged a meeting with him but sent Mendes instead, giving him the chance to convince DiCaprio to participate in the film. It can only help the film that Winslet and DiCaprio have maintained their friendship, as the film hinges on their characters' relationship. Winslet has spoken of how easy it was to fall back into her chemistry with DiCaprio, likening it to muscle memory. In an interview for "The Life of David Gale," Winslet described being "accent check buddies" with DiCaprio, using his feedback to perfect her American accent while he used hers to work on his Britspeak.

These previous relationships did lead to a few heebie jeebies on set, though. In an interview, Kate Winslet talked about the awkwardness of filming sex scenes with her best friend in front of her husband. Mendes, who has never worked with either Winslet or DiCaprio on a film, acknowledged that it was a little strange directing his wife how to make love. The actors' history on "Titanic" was fair game on set as well. One anecdote that has surfaced involves a scene in which Frank and April Wheeler meet for the first time. Both actors were having difficulty with the scene, in which their characters must create the foundation for a long relationship in a short time, and Mendes was playing Dean Martin music on set to help create a mood. After many takes, well after midnight with everyone nearing exhaustion, a crewmember surreptitiously replaced the Dean Martin song with Celine Dion's iconic ballad from "Titanic," "My Heart Will Go On." The whole crew froze for a few seconds, then DiCaprio grabbed Winslet and turned her in front of him. She held her arms out and they spontaneously re-created the famous moment from the bow of the Titanic that none of us could escape back in 1997. The lighthearted moment gave everyone a laugh and a jolt of energy and the actors were able to nail the scene on the next take.

One aspect of the film that can't be ignored is that it is an adaptation of a much-beloved book, although I doubt that most moviegoers have ever heard of the novel. How closely will the screenplay hew to Yates' novel? No word on that, but the subject has come up before.

Yates, who once said that he'd had the misfortune of writing his best novel first, never achieved commercial success in his lifetime. Revolutionary Road is a relentlessly depressing novel, and as such as never managed to join the canonized pantheon of literature such as The Great Gatsby or A Farewell to Arms. Yates struggled with alcoholism and mental illness, and wound up dying broke in 1992, but not before giving the world of cinema and television another gift by serving as a mentor to none other than David Milch, creator and writer of "NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood." There had been interest in adapting Revolutionary Road for the screen before, but no treatment had succeeded. John Frankenheimer expressed interest in the property, as it was just the sort of edgy, non-traditional fare he loved, but was persuaded to pass on it and make "The Manchurian Candidate" instead. In the mid-sixties, a producer named Albert Ruddy optioned the book, but he wanted to change a lot of elements, including the tragedy of the ending, and the film never got off the ground. Yates enjoyed some brief success as a screenwriter himself, but was rebuffed when he offered to write his own adaptation for Ruddy's proposed film. The rights were eventually sold in the 1970s to actor Patrick O'Neal, who planned to make his own film of the book. Yates read O'Neal's screenplay and found it horrifyingly bad.

The writer of the screenplay for Mendes' film is Justin Haythe, whose only other screenwriting credit is 2004's "The Clearing," a film I confess I did not remember until I looked it up on IMDB (it was that Robert Redford film where he's taken hostage out in the woods). I can offer no opinion on the writing in "The Clearing" and as such can make no predictions about Haythe's suitability to adapt this challenging material, but once again I must fall back on the discerning taste of the director and stars of this film. The screenplay must have passed muster for DreamWorks to give it the green light.

So what are the film's chances for success? I'd say better than average for its genre. It's up against some competition in its category, including "Blindness" and the long-awaited Angelina Jolie thriller "The Changeling," directed by Clint Eastwood. Early reviews for both films aren't exactly glowing, nor are they for competing films "The Duchess" and Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna." If the film is good, it may draw filmgoers who wait for Oscar-bait season to get their yearly fix of high-quality drama, and the Winslet-DiCaprio billing will no doubt bring in additional viewers who might otherwise have given it a pass. I have heard many people say that they want to see the film just to see them together again.

In Conclusion: This is going to be a depressing film. There's just no way to put a nice face on it. All indications are that it will be a well-made depressing film, but audiences tend to shy away from bleak films no matter how well-made they are. Critical acclaim can overcome much of this tendency, and likely Oscar attention will go a long way towards spurring the film to success. The inducement provided by the Winslet-DiCaprio pairing should spur the film to numbers that exceed the usual grosses for this type of film. I predict critical success and moderate box-office success.

Similar Titles: Little Children, American Beauty, Ordinary People
December 26th, 2008 (limited)
June 2nd, 2009 (DVD)

Paramount Vantage

Sam Mendes

Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Michael Shannon, Zoe Kazan

Total: 101 vote(s).


Click here to view site

Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.

119 min





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