Friday, February 13, 2009

Reading & Watching Revolutionary Road

Last night, the General and I had a little Thursday night date night. We've both been a little (lot) tense about the adoption and needed something to do together that we could relax and unwind. We had both decided to sort of skip Valentine's Day this year--no need to purchase overpriced flowers and chocolates when we have so many other things to do with our money. But at the same time, we wanted to celebrate somehow.

I've spent the last 8 days of my driving life reading Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road. And of course, Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of April Wheeler in this film. And although she didn't get an Oscar nod for it, many people thought she should. Well, as I was reading the book, a single thought kept coming to me: how the hell did they turn this into a movie?

So I finished reading it Wednesday (and, coincidentally, started on The Reader by Bernard Schlink, whose main character Kate Winslet did win an Oscar nod for protraying and she better win, darn it!) and decided I just had to see the movie. Now of course, I'm a wee bit behind the eight ball on this one--the movie's been out quite a while. So when I looked at the movie listings, I had exactly one time to choose from in Fredericksburg for Wednesday and Thursday nights before it left the theater: 9pm.

Well, this would have been OK for me, but it's been a long time since we've been to the movies and the General was hot on going with me and so we decided to turn it into a Valentine's Day date. We looked at the listings in Woodbridge and fortunately at Potomac Mills last night, it was showing at 7pm. We decided to kick it off with dinenr at the Silver Diner and then went to the 7pm show--getting home before 10 which allowed me to still do my workout :-)

So, a brief synopsis for anyone who doesn't know what the book is about. The story centers around Frank and April Wheeler (played in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), a young couple who move to the Connecticut suburbs after meeting in post WWII New York, falling hastily in love, and finding themselves expecting a baby. Frank takes a job at the same company where his father worked, while April busies herself as a housewife. Some years after, with two children, the Wheelers come to see their lives as a trap they've fallen into, and start to wonder if there is any kind of meaning in it, or if they can escape before it's too late.

I'm glad I read the book first, but I'm equally glad I saw the movie. The book spends the majority of its life plunged deep inside Frank's head, examining his thoughts and feelings about everything and everyone, and his motives are crystal clear. April's thoughts are clear, but only as an extension of Frank's own. There is very little actual 'action' to the book--Frank goes to work, April visits with the neighbors, Frank and April go dancing with their friends--the majority of it is truly their disappointment in their lives.

I don't know why, but in reading the book, I felt completely disconnected from the Wheelers. I didn't find them sympathetic characters, I didn't love them or hate them, I just felt total apathy. As they did certain things in the book, I was kind of like, "What the hell!?" but not in a way that made me seriously incensed by the fact that they'd done anything--just that in the overall scheme of things, nothing seemed like it was done because either of them thought that it would improve their lives.

This was the beauty of seeing the film. I was able to relate more to the characters and come to have feelings for them. I do quibble with the choice of Kathy Bates as the neighbor, Mrs. Givings, and frankly whenever I look at Leonardo DiCaprio, I see a 12 year old boy (hate him for that! He and Matthew Broderick never seem to age.), but the acting was excellent. I am pleased to note that Michael Shannon is up for an Oscar for his portrayal of John Givings, Mrs. Givings's crazy son. He was jaw-droppingly fantastic in that role. As was Dylan Baker as Frank's obnoxious co-worker, Jack Ordway.

I will say that the writers stayed as true as I think would be possible in bringing the book to the big screen. There were 2 scenes in particular that I had some issues with their changing, one of which was the very last 20 minutes, and the other which was when April and her neighbor Shep are in the car after a dance. The things that they left out were central to the very core of who April was, in my opinion and had they left in a couple of things, you would have gotten a much better sense of what was going on in her head.

That being said, seeing it acted out did make it all the better. There were times in the book when I would think, "They did what?!" But seeing it made a bit more sense. For instance, in the beginning of both the book and the film (and I'm not giving anything away here), Frank and April are driving home from a play in which April has acted and they start to argue. Frank pulls the car over on the side of the road and April jumps out of the car and the two of them proceed to scream at each other in a big dust up on the side of the road. And I remember the whole time thinking, "Seriously? People actually do this type of thing?" But actually, in the film, it doesn't really seem so weird.

The movie ended and the General said, "On the way home, you're going to have to explain a few things to me." And in fact, I did and to him that made the movie make a whole lot more sense. But because I had the novel's picture of what was going on in their heads, I was able to make sense of it for him and now he's interested in reading the book. So I think that will be a new project for him--I gave him the CD's to read.

If you haven't already seen the movie, do yourself a favor and read the book first. Despite my apathy towards the characters, I really, really enjoyed reading the book, and consequently, I really, really enjoyed the movie.

I'll have to see The Reader on DVD, as it doesn't appear to be playing around here any more. And I will probably miss the Oscars telecast as we'll be driving home from WV that day, but I'll be rooting for Kate all the way. She deserves it!

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Talmadge Gleck said...

Kathy Bates .... she's a quirky one, that's for sure. Loved her roles as Jay Leno's pitbull Helen Kushnick in the TV adaptation of The Late Shift (about the big power-grab at NBC denying Letterman his rightful chance to succeed Carson) ... and, of course, Roberta Hertzel in About Schmidt.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it: ONE MORE WEEK.