Posted By: Coco Buchanan
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead, Road To Perdition), this film is an adaptation of Richard Yates 1961 novel, and stars Kate Winslet as April Wheeler, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler – a newly married white couple. Though this film had many problems, most obvious being the histrionic script (at times horrendously so) and general heavy-handedness of the story telling, I thought there were some standout performances by Winslet and Michael Shannon, who plays nosy neighbor Kathy Bates’ emotionally disturbed son. DiCaprio was okay, I guess, but I’m not a fan in general. Some argue that this story of white suburban tension and gender politics in the early 60s is “old news.” I disagree. Sure, this film has all the subtlety of the awful The Manchurian Candidate remake, in comparison to the genius of Mad Men, but just because Mad Men does it better, doesn’t mean this topic should be left alone or not further explored. Yes, this film did not successfully illuminate the nuances of the subject, however, at the very least, it gives others a jumping off point, and the art direction was beautiful. Also, this review contains spoilers.
Though perhaps this was too obvious, I thought the casting was pretty genius. Re-pairing the stars of the schmaltziest, most horrible romantic movie of the last 10 years for a movie about exposing the lies of “happily ever after”? That was pre-tty, pre-tty good, as Larry David would say. Taking full advantage of Leo DiCaprio’s boy-man looks for the boy-man role of Frank? Nice. True, I couldn’t stop thinking: “dude, he is totally ripping off Peter Campbell”– even though this movie was made before Mad Men ever aired– I think it would’ve been more difficult for a more mature-looking actor to play that part properly. Michael Shannon, though really stole the show here-I think those were the bits I most enjoyed. Apart from that, I think the fight scenes between Winslet and DiCaprio were well-acted and really resonated with me, speaking as someone who has frequently in the past felt trapped by certain gender-related expectations within romantic relationships.
Now for the bad stuff. As I mentioned, I really don’t think this film could’ve been more heavy-handed. After that great first scene where Michael Shannon meets the Wheelers and approves of their proposed escape to Europe, in the very next scene, DiCaprio says something along the lines of “Wow, so he agrees with our moving to Europe-maybe we’re every bit as crazy as he is!” Really, Sam Mendes? Did we really need you to point out so specifically Franks insecurities about Paris?!? I think I kind of caught that, given that Michael Shannon’s character even exists here. The most ridiculous scenes, though, came towards the end when * SPOILER ALERT for the rest of this paragraph* April Wheeler ends up in the hospital. Not only were some pretty ridiculously unnecessary (and just plain stupid) lines uttered (DiCaprio said something like “I don’t know, the doctors said something about capillaries or something that I didn’t understand”…REALLY? Ugh.), but honestly, the movie should’ve just ended when it was pretty obvious April was gonna die.
Anywho, this movie isn’t totally horrible and worthless, but I would definitely just wait for the DVD. Though, it was very pretty. Maybe try & sneak in or something.