I’m still wondering why “Revolutionary Road” wasn’t an Oscar contender earlier this year. Yes, it was pretty depressing, but then again, it’s not as if movies like “Milk,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Reader” were big laughfests. But in my book, there were few performances better in 2008 than Kate Winslet’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s in this movie, as a young 1950s married couple trapped in a life that seems plain and small. And I thought that Justin Haythe’s smart, literate adaptation maintained the brilliance of Richard Yates’ novel. I read the book last December, just after seeing the movie, and it made a huge impression on me; in fact, it’s still sitting here on my desk. If you saw “Revolutionary Road,” you remember the early scene in which April (Winslet) miserably awaits her husband Frank (DiCaprio) backstage, after an amateur theatrical performance that hasn’t gone well. April — and Winslet conveys this in a way that’s seared into my memory — is desperately hoping that perhaps Frank liked her performance, perhaps he’ll tell her that everything’s all right, but he doesn’t. Here’s the passage in the book; very close to what happens on screen:
She was alone, sitting very straight at a mirror and removing her make-up. Her eyes were still red and blinking, but she gave him a small replica of her curtain-call smile before turning back to the mirror. “Hi,” she said. “You ready to leave?”
He closed the door and started toward her with the corners of his mouth stretched tight in a look that he hoped would be full of love and humor and compassion; what he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say “Listen: you were wonderful.” But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him that she didn’t want to be touched, which left him uncertain what to do with his hands, and that was when it occurred to him that “You were wonderful” might be exactly the wrong thing to say — condescending, or at the very least naive and sentimental, and much too serious.
“Well,” he said instead. “I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph or anything, was it?” And he stuck a cigarette jauntily in his lips and lit it with a flourish of his clicking Zippo.