Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Revolutionary Road" (2008, Dir: Sam Mendes)

I thought it was just awful and so melodramatic. Thematically, it just didn't make sense, and the acting by the leads was so stilted... it reminded me of an amateur college production whenever Kate and Leo had a scene together. There just seemed to be something stopping them from really getting into the characters. Indeed the only time their acting seemed even remotely real to me was from the final breakfast scene onwards, but it just wasn't enough.

I like Michael Shannon a lot and I'm glad he's getting this nomination, because it broadens his horizons, but he gave an underwhelming performance. The role was a showstopper in the book, and pretty much anyone could have impressed with it, but I found his acting hammy (that obvious thing he did with his mouth and the squinting!) and unimaginative. I've seen two far superior and more creative "crazy" performances this year - Jason Butler Harner in "Changeling" and of course Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight". I thought the best performance actually was given by Kathy Bates, who I usually dislike. A key scene of her character's was left out of the film (which is sad, she would have gotten an Oscar nomination had they left it in) but I thought she was excellent with the role of a woman desperate to hide her inner sadness. She gave a consistently surprising, subtle performance that was the complete opposite of Shannon's blunt raging. The supporting performances ranged from good (I liked Kathryn Hahn's comic stylings and the guy who played Bart Pollock with great charisma) to awful (Dylan Baker, a fine actor, is downright embarrassing here).

The marvelously cynical ending was one of the few things I really loved about the book - but there it worked because the overall tone of the book was so caustically snide. With a film this painfully earnest, you can't tack on an ending like this and expect it to work within the context of the picture. The entire satirical tone of the novel was completely lost in its translation to the screen.


StinkyLulu said...

I'm curious:

What Bates scene got left out?

And can you tell me more about the tone of the novel's ending?

Slayton said...

By left out, I mean it wasn't filmed. But if it had been Bates would have gotten a nomination... as long as she was innovative enough to make it more than a cheap "crying" scene. Here's the passage:

Passing the shadowed mirror on the landing, she noticed with pride that her own image, at least when seen fleetingly from the corner of an eye, was still that of a swift, lithe girl in a well-appointed house; and on the ample carpet of her bedroom, where she quickly stripped off her jacket and stepped out of her skirt, it was almost as if she were back in her father's house, hurrying to dress for a tea dance. Her blood seemed to race with the emergency of last-minute details (Which kind of perfume? Oh, quick - which kind?) and she very nearly ran out to the banister to call, "Wait! I'm coming! I'll be right down!"
It was the sight and the feel of her old flannel shirt and baggy slacks, hanging from their peg in the closet, that steadied her. Silly, silly, she scolded herself: I *am* getting scatty. But the real shock came when she sat on the bed to take off her stockings, because she had expected her feet to be slim and white with light blue veins and straight, fragile bones. Instead, splayed on the carpet like two toads, they were tough and knuckled with bunions, curling to hide their corneous toenails. She stuffed them quickly into her bright Norwegian slipper-socks (really the nicest things in the world for knocking around the house) and sprang up to pull the rest of her simple, sensible country clothes into place, but it was too late, and for the next five minutes she had to stand there holding on to the bedpost with both hands and keeping her jaw shut very tight because she was crying.
She cried because she'd had such high, high hopes about the Wheelers tonight and now she was terribly, terribly, terribly disappointed. She cried because she was fifty-six years old and her feet were ugly and swollen and horrible; she cried because none of the girls had liked her at school and none of the boys had liked her later; she cried because Howard Givings was the only man who'd ever asked her to marry him, and because she'd done it, and because her only child was insane.
But soon it was over; all she had to do was go into the bathroom and blow her nose and wash her face and brush her hair. Then, refreshed, she walked jauntily and soundlessly downstairs in her slipper-socks and returned to sit in the ladder-back rocker across from her husband, turning out all but one of the lights in the room as she came.
"There," she said. "That's much cozier. Really, Howard, my nerves were just like *wires* after that business with the Wheelers. You can't imagine how it upset me. The point is I'd always thought they were such *solid* young people. I thought *all* the young married people today were supposed to be more settled. Wouldn't you think they ought to be, especially in a community like this? Goodness knows, all *I* hear about is young couples *dying* to come and settle here, and raise their children..."
She went on talking and talking, moving around and around the room; and Howard Givings timed his nods, his smiles, and his rumblings so judiciously that she never guessed he had turned his hearing aid off for the night.


I think that if Bates was smart about it, she could have done wonders with that scene (in my opinion, the best-written part of the book).

And the ending was exactly the same as the ending of the movie, except in the book it worked because the book was more consistent in tone. The ending was a sharply observed, cynical bit of acid that kept the film's overall theme that nobody is truly "free" unless they make a sort of existential leap of faith and see the "system" from the outside. The film treated the Frank/April story as a character/relationship study rather than a further-reaching allegory for entrapment and confinement within social boundaries and the ending didn't really work on the film, in my opinion.

Sally Belle said...

I felt this same way about Doubt!

I haven't seen RR yet...but, now I'm very interested.

How could you screw this up Sam Mendes?