I Love You. Please Stop Talking.

by

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Revolutionary Road snuck up on me. Like Elizabeth I sat in the theatre appreciating it, falling in love with bits and pieces, and wondering why I wasn’t completely moved. Then, just at the end, it pierced my heart and I wished the lights wouldn’t ever come up.

The production is layered and complex immediately. It’s the cinematic equivalent to jumping into a quarry, not wading into a lake. The entire audience for today’s matinee seemed unprepared for that. The first few scenes cover miles of ground and the actors are laying out high emotions and yet there we were eating our candy and shuffling in our seats and forgetting to silence our phones and walkie talkies. Then, somewhere, I couldn’t even tell you where, they got us and you could hear a pin drop.

The cast is phenomenal. Kate Winslet is exquisite in her portrayal of an intricate, flawed wife, mother and aspiring “wonderful person in the world.” Without seeming to do much at all she tells you every little thing that goes through that woman’s mind. Kathy Bates has a middling sized yet pivotal role for which she hits the perfect pitch. Richard Easton sneeks in, building a character almost entirely out of subtlety. You almost don’t realize he’s there until he’s staring you in the face from an inch away. The names we might not know but should are David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Shannon and Zoe Kazan. You will love them here and I suspect you will love them elsewhere very soon. The cast is peppered with actors you know on sight but can’t quite recall, like Max Casella of Doogie Howser fame and childrens music fans should keep their eyes peeled for Dan Zanes in a cameo.

You may have noticed one glaring omition in my paragraph of praise. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly adequate. Perhaps that’s my prejudice against him, but I don’t think so. In a lot of other projects his work would be fine, even standout, but here, with this assemblage of finely honed craft, it’s not more than ok. He has his moments and he holds on enough not to look out of place but he can’t possibly hold a candle to the precisely tuned performance being turned in by Winslet.

The story is not uplifting, I’ll warn you now. It is, however, the perfect cautionary tale with which to kick off a new year. The take away message is that the only truly immoral act is to squelch someone’s dreams, even if that someone is yourself. That message is delivered with just the right combination of strength and background to really drive the point home, too. Like Colin Hay’s Waiting For My Real Life to Begin I want to go back to the piece again and again but find the common mistakes it highlights so painfully close to the ones I make daily that I almost cannot bear another run through at the same time that I must have it.

Now I’m going to talk about plot so it might get a bit spoilery, please proceed with caution.
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Within the first few minutes of the film DiCaprio and Winslet have met, married, had two children and fallen into a suburban rut that may be crushing their souls. We then have the rest of the movie to see if they can dig themselves out of that hole. They make a plan, well she makes a plan. They will sell their house and move to Paris and she will support them so that he can find his bliss. Predictably that doesn’t come to pass.

Before they are derailed, fascinatingly, everyone around them takes their decision terribly personally. Each friend sees their choice not as courageous or interesting but as a judgment on the person being told and on the life they are trying to leave behind. It tells us, the audience, more about the other characters than about the Wheelers yet it inevitably weighs on the Wheelers’ resolve.

In a characterization we don’t see often with heterosexual couples in the media Frank (DiCaprio) wants desperately to talk everything out while April (Winslet) wants him to please stop talking so she can just think for a minute. She just wants to process what he’s saying and how he’s reacting and he just keeps banging on, demanding agreement. He is nearly incapable of allowing her that processing space, fearing letting up before she gives ground. If I had a dollar for every guy I know like that… In any case it’s wrenchingly beautiful to see that played out even while it makes me so angry I want to YouTube it to…certain people to prove myself right.

Michael Shannon as John Givings, a crazy math genius on the occasional four hour pass from the state loony bin under the supervision of his parents (Bates & Easton), serves as the court jester, soothsayer and all around unfiltered emotion. The physical event that spins the couple off their course for Paris is an unplanned pregnancy. Givings, having previously turned out to be the only supporter of their plan, is undone by their inability to move. After stirring up everyone in the room with his unerring ability to find the ugliest truth he delivers one final blow, “You know what I’m really glad about? You want to know what? I’m glad I’m not” and here he points at April’s belt, “that kid.” To watch it is to be punched in the gut and yet Winslet, the one whose gut is actually being punched, absorbs that blow and allows us to see it land with terrifying precision in her exact emotional center.

The moment that broke me, though, was the very last image of the film. We have wrapped up the Wheelers’ story and swept them from the tidy New Jersey suburb. We have watched Frank insist on speech and be denied. We have watched April beg for concessions only to be forced to give them instead. Her cries of, “Please stop talking!” still ring in our ears and his bland, unquestioning attitude still raises bile in our throats. Just before the credits we join Mr. & Mrs. Givings in their living room. Mrs. Givings, a real estate agent by trade, holds an irresistible basset hound puppy on her lap and strokes it as she talks to her husband about the perfect little house on Revolutionary Road. She builds up the current tenants and begins to run down the Wheelers. As she warms to the tale her husband speaks up to try and steer her back toward to harsher truth but she won’t be swayed. The camera closes in on him as he lowers his paper, watches her intently and very slowly turns the volume on his hearing aid all the way down.

I wept not for the specific action but for the clear question I heard as I watched, “What do you do when you love someone, completely, but you wish you didn’t have to hear them any more?”

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6 Responses to “I Love You. Please Stop Talking.”

  1. San Diego Momma Says:

    THAT was a wonderful review. Loads better than I’ve read anywhere else. You’ve got a talent for this.
    I want to see it now based on your comments alone.

  2. g Says:

    dang. This movie scared me when I saw it in previews….with your review it scares me even more. can’t wait to see it.

  3. Gertrude Says:

    Can’t wait to see it! Even more now with the great review! Sounds like it is going to tear me into little pieces!

  4. Becca Says:

    I hadn’t even heard of this movie. Now I really want to see it.

  5. Kizz Says:

    Somebody call the Revolutionary Road people, I think they owe me a commission! It’s not easy but it is so good. I realize that I didn’t even mention the director, Sam Mendes, and I usually love his work on both stage and screen. I’d love to hear what you think of it after you see it, too.

  6. Grammar Snob Says:

    Can’t wait to see it. Sounds like a winner. Great review, Kizz!

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