Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Revolutionary Road (Book and Movie)

Book: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd
Publishing Date: February 1st 2001 (first published 1961)
Paperback: 346 pages

Movie: Directed by Sam Mendes

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour, Kathy Bates, Zoe Kazan
Theatrical Release:Dec 26, 2008

Summary: (from Goodreads)
April and Frank Wheeler are a young, ostensibly thriving couple living with their two children in a prosperous Connecticut suburb in the mid-1950s. However, like the characters in John Updike's similarly themed Couples, the self-assured exterior masks a creeping frustration at their inability to feel fulfilled in their relationships or careers. Frank is mired in a well-paying but boring office job and April is a housewife still mourning the demise of her hoped-for acting career. Determined to identify themselves as superior to the mediocre sprawl of suburbanites who surround them, they decide to move to France where they will be better able to develop their true artistic sensibilities, free of the consumerist demands of capitalist America. As their relationship deteriorates into an endless cycle of squabbling, jealousy and recriminations, their trip and their dreams of self-fulfillment are thrown into jeopardy


As the summary says, this story is about Frank and April Wheeler struggling with the difference of who they are now and who they had thought they were going to be. At the core, that is really what this story is about. Two people who are not living the life they had imagined themselves to be living. While both of them know something has to change, neither one knows what that change needs to be.

I didn’t get interested in this book after I saw the movie trailer to be honest. If I know a movie is being adapted from a book then I prefer to read the story first so I can get a better grasp of what the movie is trying to tell us. Since the trailer looked interesting enough, I decided to check both the book and the movie out from the library.

The book was very much a trying experience for me. Some parts of the book dragged on forever it seemed and the Wheelers are also not easy characters to love. They are flawed and pretentious and will drive you crazy. Frank has this hipster pseudo-intelligent facade that is so obvious it’s annoying as all hell. And while I can’t help but feel compassion for the suffocation April feels at being forced into the limited view of what a wife and woman must be, I also found April’s emasculation of Frank frustrating. Really, it wasn’t until I finished the story when I realized what a magical piece of writing Revolutionary Road is. The tedious account of every little detail of Frank’s life made me part of that tedium. The personal exceptionalism that both of the characters felt was also something I really related to. We may not always admit it, but I think most of us truly do think we are special and can be resentful when the world doesn’t seem to reflect that.

Revolutionary Road is a book that grows on you over time and you find yourself thinking more fondly back on it then you did while you were reading it.

The movie on the other hand, does not leave the same lasting impression but is still exceptional. I was quite worried about how the movie would play out since so much of the book focuses on introspection, but I think the movie did a great job at portraying the isolation both characters felt in their lives. Both the book and the movie start with the beginning of the end of Frank and April's relationship and the haunting quality in both is surprising.

My only complaint about the movie is that I thought a lot of April’s struggle was lost. Without having read the book I’m not sure her idea of moving to Paris seems as plausible as it did in the book. April deciding to make a change in order for her and Frank to feel alive again was definitely hasty, but also courageous. In the story you also get a sense of how Frank’s ever evolving reluctance to leave feels like a betrayal. At root neither Frank nor April should be demonized or blamed completely and I worry the movie loses some of that.

Beyond that I thought the movie kicked major ass and conveyed the essence of the story.

I loved Michael Shannon as the neighbor’s crazy son John (and the irony that the “crazy” guy is the only true voice of reason in the book) and the scene at the bar is also really great. While the movie doesn't pack the same emotional punch, I never wanted to throw my tv across the room in frustration so that's got to count for something.


Book - 7. Very good
Movie - I don't rate movies but I will say it is definitely worth watching.

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