It is fashionable these days to look back upon the '50s and '60s as a time when there was cool fashion and a lot of smoking and martini drinking, covering up for deeply unsettled, Stepford Wives-esque lives of quiet desperation. The AMC show Mad Men revels in this milieu, sometimes to an excessive extent. Were people really this suppressed, oppressed, and unhappy in their cookie-cutter suburban lives? Did Manhattan businessmen really have "swell" afternoon romps with secretaries while their wives baked cakes with the children at home? It's all very convenient and elegant to portray the postwar American ideal as an ill-founded, flashy farce covering up for the ugly truths of life, and it's made Mad Men a pop culture hit. But it's a little too convenient, too expected. And although it has many virtues, Revolutionary Road ultimately comes across as a little bit too cynical for its own good.
The film, directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) and based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates, drops us into the lives of April and Frank Wheeler, a couple living an idyllic existence in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City in the 1950s. They have two kids, a house with red shutters, and some really nice neighbors. But the predictability of it all bores them, so one day they decide to drop everything and move to Paris "for something different." April will get a job working at the U.S. Embassy, while Frank just writes and reads and thinks about what he wants to do with his life. Their escape plan is soon thwarted, tragically, by their mutual realization that their move to Paris is really just a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. The rest of the film plays out like a slow burn, intricately and painstakingly ...1