Monday, January 19, 2009

Revolutionary Road and Mojo Mom

When I saw the movie previews for Revolutionary Road, I thought "why would anyone want to see that?" It just looked so depressing, and I didn't really see the point of it. But then I heard that the source novel was fiercely loved by a cadre of die-hard fans, so I thought I'd better read it.

I also came across of the most impassioned and articulate blog pieces I've ever encountered about why the movie did not live up to the novel, which really got me interested. So, to Michael Tully, I thought you'd like to hear that you got me hooked on your Favorite Book Ever.

You can read my Amazon.com review of Revolutionary Road (the book), and I'll add a little more here. This was the first time I've ever linked to my own book inside an Amazon.com review (and I've written more than 80 reviews). I hesitated to do so because it looks self-promotional, but Revolutionary Road makes the case for Mojo Mom in a big way. The 1950's were stifling for men and women, but men had more ways out. In the novel, Frank Wheeler can start to find some satisfaction in the job he once mocked. This may be seen as a cop-out but I thought it was a legitimate path. Unfortunately, his wish to abandon their heady plan to move their family to Paris crushes his wife April's only chance to escape her current life. She was suffocating as a suburban housewife and mother of two.

The novel is complicated, just like life. Frank is given a motivation that can be seen as noble as well as self-serving. There is a lot in the novel about what it means to be a man, and ultimately there is a ton of ego involved. When April becomes pregnant with their third child, Frank doesn't want another baby either, but he can't stand the emasculating idea that she would not proudly accept the pregnancy.

The novel stands out as an honest portrayal of middle-class American family life in the 1950's, before The Feminine Mystique, the technological revolution, the social activism of the 1960's, and Roe v. Wade. The book is ultimately about disappointment, that gap between their youthful expectations and the reality for the Wheelers, where they feel middle-aged and painted into a corner by 30. They couldn't know that they were on the precipice of a major social revolution--one that had its own problems, but was much more interesting than their post-War suburban prison. The novel was written in 1961, which speaks to author Richard Yates' prescient thoughts about American life. The things he wanted to change ultimately did change a lot in the 1960's.

(Spoiler alert for the movie review to follow--reveals an aspect of the story's ending.)

I highly recommend the novel. The movie version doesn't stand as well on its own because it is trying to portray a story that is so much on the interior, it's hard to show cinematically. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio give fine performances (especially Winslet). The major problem with their pairing is that they make such a fantastic couple that it's hard to believe that April and Frank really don't love each other. What doomed this young husband and wife--was it immaturity, depression, egocentrism, or a mistake in judgment from day one? I'm still working it out. As a reader who admired the novel, I knew how it had to end, but as an eternally-romantic moviegoer I was sad to see that Leo and Kate didn't get a happily ever after.

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