On 'Revolutionary Road,' A Dream Gone Off Course A decade ago, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio played a couple falling in love on the Titanic. They've reunited to play starry-eyed lovers whose marriage goes titanically wrong.
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On 'Revolutionary Road,' A Dream Gone Off Course

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On 'Revolutionary Road,' A Dream Gone Off Course

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On 'Revolutionary Road,' A Dream Gone Off Course

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Just over a decade ago, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio played a couple who fell in love in the movie "Titanic." Now, they are reunited in a film called "Revolutionary Road," and Bob Mondello says this time they are playing a couple that is titanically unhappy.

BOB MONDELLO: When they met, April and Frank wanted it all.

(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")

Mr. LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) You've been to Paris?

Ms. KATE WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) I've never really been anywhere.

Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) Well, maybe I'll take you with me, then, huh? I'm going back the first chance I get, I tell you. People are alive there, unlike here.

MONDELLO: It was the 1950s, Frank had dreams but no job; April pictured her life as an actress. The future was theirs.

(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")

Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) I want to feel things. Really feel them.

Ms. WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) I think you're the most interesting person I've ever met.

MONDELLO: Then Frank got a job, April got pregnant, and Paris and feeling things slid to the background. With dreams deferred, they started talking to realtors.

(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")

Ms. KATHY BATES: (As Helen Givings) As you can see, Crawford Road is mostly these little cinder-block, pickup-truck-y places, plumbers, carpenters, little local people of that sort. But eventually, eventually it leads up to Revolutionary Road, which is much nicer. Now, the place I want to show you is a sweet little house, sweet little setting, simple, clean lines, good lawns, marvelous for children. It's just around this next curve.

MONDELLO: Buy the house, go to work, take out the garbage, have an affair - slowly they mortgage their dreams. Their marriage turns sour, they end up at each other's throats, and then things really go wrong. Now, I've been telling the story chronologically, but the movie and the novel it's based on don't. "Revolutionary Road" jumps around in time, with the result that you don't get to know April and Frank before you see them at each other's throats.

Director Sam Mendes makes '50s suburbia a persuasively suffocating place; he did the same for '90s suburbia in "American Beauty," remember? But these characters are so selfish and self-centered and the screenplay is so calculated about bringing them to their knees, that the movie feels sort of hermetically sealed. Was conformity in the 1950s really that straitjacketing, you wonder? And just as you're wondering, an experts in straitjacket shows up: the real-estate agent's son, fresh from the mental hospital, which makes him the ultimate '50s nonconformist, someone who says what he means. It's like a challenge amid all the small talk, so when he asks about Frank's job, Frank also says what he means.

(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")

Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) Actually it's - well, it's sort of a stupid job, really; there's nothing interesting about it at all.

Mr. MICHAEL SHANNON: (As John Givings) What do you do it for, then?

Mr. RICHARD EASTON: (As Howard Givings) Maybe Frank doesn't like being questioned.

Mr. SHANNON: (As John Givings) Oh, OK, OK, OK, I know it's none of my business. And besides, I know the answer. You want to play house, you've got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you've got to have a job you don't like. Anyone comes along and says, what do you do it for? He's probably on a...

(Laughing) four-hour pass from the state funny farm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHANNON: (As John Givings) All agreed?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Michael Shannon plays this guy, and pretty effectively steals the scenes he's in from Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. But they don't have any trouble reclaiming the story as it turns darker. And it gets really dark by the final fade. The Richard Yates novel, "Revolutionary Road," written back in 1961, when critiques of the suburbs were themselves revolutionary, is by all accounts devastating. But the characters' problems seem sort of of-their-own-making in the movie, which leaves you with a few questions: Were Frank and April really as special as they think they are? Were they ever likely to set out on a road that could be called revolutionary? And if not, why is their misery, however expertly brought to cinematic life, worth two hours of our time? I'm Bob Mondello.

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