Richard Yates’ 1961 novel has been held in high regard since its debut. Revolutionary Road was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1962, and was named one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to present by TIME magazine in 2005. Just a few short years after being named to the list, the novel got the Hollywood treatment, earning Kate Winslet a Golden Globe award for Best Actress (Drama) and Leonardo DiCaprio a Golden Globe nomination.
To describe the novel as a painful read is right and wrong at the same time. To call it painful isn’t to call it bad; it is, however, so steeped in emotion that sometimes you just have to walk away at the end of the chapter. Yates doesn’t just poke holes in the myth of 1950s suburban bliss, he launches a missile right through it.
Set in a cozy little Connecticut town, Frank and April Wheeler are, at best, a young couple in the midst of readjusting their dreams and expectations to meet all of their responsibilities – Frank’s career is on the verge of growing, but is deeply unsatisfying; April loves her children, but wishes life had more to offer than being a housewife and mother. At their worst, the Wheelers are a human cat-5 hurricane, lashing out at one another with an almost atomic level of pent-up rage.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are the perfect embodiment of the Wheelers, capturing Yates’ brilliantly un-nuanced scenes of domestic life. You can choose between romance and hostility. There is no middle ground. DiCaprio and Winslet work because they are both great actors individually, but because they are also a great onscreen couple. She is perfectly poised, nearly icy, while he flies seamlessly from affable charm to terrifying rage.
On film, their fullness as characters is opposite the book. Yates breathes so much life into April’s unhappiness, which director Sam Mendes maintains, but almost neglects to make Frank as frail and painfully human. Mendes corrects this largely through casting...