In the lead up to this year's Academy Awards, the always amazing actress Kate Winslet found herself in two films with Oscar buzz. It happens from time to time that someone goes up against themselves, and usually splits the votes and thereby loses. It's an election, not a lottery -- it's not you have two lottery tickets and therefore twice the chances. (grin)
But the Golden Globes "solved" this dilemma for La Kate by nominating her for Best Supporting Actress in The Reader and Best Actress for Revolutionary Road. And after being shut out of the Globes for all these years, Kate managed to take home TWO, though everyone was left scratching their head trying to figure out how the hell she was a supporting actress in The Reader.
The Oscars solved the dilemma in a different way -- give Kate just one nomination. And so FINALLY, this extraordinary actress is 1-for-6 and won Best Actress for The Reader. That other film? Not mentioned. Oh, except for a Best Supporting Actor nod for Michael Shannon in a brilliant performance of a troubled man who actually speaks the truth.
Revolutionary Road [R]
Celebration Woodland #1, 12:50pm, $3.50
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. After making a small picture in 1997 which racked up a couple of billion in ticket sales worldwide, pairing them up a decade later is NEWS and a BIG BOX OFFICE DRAW. Or could've been if a lot of people had gone to see this film. Looks like about $20 million domestic and about the same internationally so far.
But of course I'll see Kate doing anything -- and her role here is tough and meaty, exactly her forte. Leo DiCaprio, not my favorite of actors, is becoming one of our great period actors (Titanic, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, The Quick and the Dead, Gangs of New York -- and even a promise of Leo as Theodore Roosevelt!) and in Revolutionary Road adds the muted monotone dull suburban life of a 1950s American salaryman to his body of work. Perfectly complimenting Kate as the suburban housewife hauling out the trashcans in makeup, jewelry, skirt and heels.
Revolutionary Road is an actual road, where the neighborhood changes from pickup trucks and tradespeople to the better end of town. Frank and April Wheeler are caught in the honey trap of working a loveless job to support a suburban lifestyle they don't like. Supposedly they have two children, but the children appear and disappear without much trace that they actually live in the house with the Wheelers. Kate's reluctant motherhood in Little Children was more convincing. Instead we get much discussion of babysitters without ever seeing one, while we are subject to numerous acts of 1950s home entertaining, and food plates out of all the best ladies' magazines, plus multi-martini lunches and going out for drinks and dancing at a local place with "atmosphere".
It is jarring in 2009 to see so much smoking -- like watching an episode of AMC's Mad Men on steroids. And drinking -- my god I've never seen so many martini glasses and bottles of Johnny Walker, etc. So many of the optimistic conversations are drenched in drinks after drinks, that we know that their dream of chucking it all and moving to Paris is either going to end in disaster or never happen. Is this a couple in love? A couple in 30-ish angst? A couple in raging hate? A couple in burnt out tolerance? Some dungeon master somewhere is rolling dice and changing the characters from one scene to the next -- these people have Problems.
The sets and costumes and cinematography are superb. The scenes of Frank at work, and the scenes of Frank -- a man in coat and jacket and tie lost in a sea of men in coats and jackets and ties surging through New York's epic Grand Central Terminal, up and down the streets and elevators, and riding the New Haven back to Connecticut -- in his tiny blip of an existence amongst the lemmings of the commuters are well done. The movie has an R-rating, and it is a film for adults. But I've seen far more naked bodies and foul language in PG-13 movies. I suppose it goes along with what I've heard recently that the F-word doesn't merit an "R", unless you actually apply it to F-ing.
Had this film been made in the 1970s, it would've been hailed as a bold exposé of the 50s. Mrs. Dr. Phil mentioned 1980's Ordinary People as reference. Neither of us have read the book -- I was surprised to see it was from 1961 -- and so we don't know if it goes deeper into how they all got into this mess. Or how WW II really impacted on the then young Frank. After an opening scene where Frank and April meet, we are mostly just thrust into seven or so years later and a life of lies and manipulation. Here in 2009, we've seen some of this before and so the visceral impacts of this film have been muted.
This is not a happy film, but I shall reluctantly recommend it for the visuals and the view of a world both gone and transmogrified into today's cube farms. The cast, though, from Kate and Leo, to Kathy Bates, the neighbors, the real estate agent's mentally disabled son, and the poor misled secretary, are all excellent.