This is April's dream, not Frank's
Is it possible that an era whose survivors still walk this earth can be so difficult an assignment for contemporary filmmakers? “Revolutionary Road” says yes. The movie touches surely on some big themes only to trip over the details.
Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet) meet and marry in the heady days after World War II when returning soldiers drove new wives in new cars out to create the suburbs. If they all ended up on some form of boxplot, they would work their way up the waiting ladder soon enough. For many, it was an adventure; but not for the Wheelers who, for no apparent reason, consider themselves special.
Frank commutes by train to his cubicle (cubicles came later) in the Knox Business Machines Co. in New York. He navigates the sea of conformity with a grim expression that reveals disgust for his job. He is surrounded at work by peers who resemble not the office workers of the ‘50s, but the cast of TV’s “The Office.” Director Sam Mendes tries to diminish the era by painting all characters but his two leads in broad caricature that fails. And believe me, no corporate sales trainee would ever have worn short sleeved, open, untucked sport shirts, topped by a fedora (wrong kind) to work in that earnest time. But let’s not quibble.
Frank and April have bought their house and now have two children who are nearly invisible in complete contradiction of the time. Children defined the women who raised them and they were always there, right there. So much attention was lavished on them that they grew up to be the generation of entitled baby boomers. When 22-year olds had children in the ‘50s, dreams of the adults went on hold.
When April presents Frank with her nonsensical idea of chucking his job and moving to Paris where she will support the family with secretarial work while he contemplates dreams he doesn’t seem to have, we wince. That’s not how it worked. No income, no job, no plans – a pair of teenagers at 30. This is April’s dream, not Frank’s and they fight it out in a scene certain to be a classic. In the ‘50s with early marriages and children, the men took jobs and stuck it out in order to support their new families. And the women did everything else. That was both the bargain of the day and the problem that led to Feminism.
What the movie gets right here are the questions of abortion and affairs, the feeling for some men of pulling an expensive cart full of dependents, and for some wives of being trapped in the house. In one defining scene Kate Winslet surrenders deliberately for just a moment. She straightens up the house, makes coffee and asks Frank, “Scrambled or fried, Frank?” And then, in her lovely dress, she kisses him good-bye at the door, “Have a good day.”
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