The Movie Club

Leaving for Screenings as My Daughter Yells, "Don't Work!" Out the Window
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 8 2009 12:58 PM

The Movie Club

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OK, Jeannette, I'll join you in Winslet's womb for a moment. (Shove over, it's getting crowded in here!) I'm glad to hear Revolutionary Roadhad the effect on you that I kept trying, and failing, to let it have on me. Somebody (was it one of you guys?) recently described the sensation of watching the movie as if "through Plexiglas," a distancing effect that pairs strangely with the story's emotional rawness. But it sounds like you were right there with the Wheelers on the other side of the glass—which, unless Sam Mendes is secretly channeling Brecht, is right where you were supposed to be. Still, I'll confess that there are some things about your reading of the movie that I don't understand. For example: the moment when Kate, as April Wheeler, "realizes she has married a coward." What exact moment are you talking about? Isn't that a slow revelation she experiences over the course of the whole movie? I think you must be talking about the scene in which (SPOILER ALERT) she reveals her pregnancy and Leo/Frank first begins to question the Paris plan. But please tell me the exact scene and line you saw as the turning point so I can take another look.

The question of children—whether to have them, how to live with the impossible claims they make on our freedom—is, without doubt, as you say, a constant and vexed subtext of Revolutionary Road. But as a parent who struggles with this freedom/love equation every day (running out the door to movie screenings as my daughter yells, "Don't work!" out the window), I found the fleshly reality of childrearing to be curiously absent from the movie. Do we ever even learn the names of those evanescent blond moppets who occasionally show up to leap picturesquely through the lawn sprinkler? (In the book, they're Jennifer and Michael.) As April and Frank Wheeler conduct their nightly bouts of operatic screaming in the living room, the kids snooze away upstairs, unseen and unheard. Why shouldn't the Wheelers have another baby and cart the whole lot to Paris? They seem to be blessed with the most unobtrusive movie children on earth. This proplike aspect of the Wheeler kids is especially strange in light of the fact that Winslet and Mendes have a son together and are also bringing up Kate's daughter from her first marriage (not that I, er, read celebrity baby blogs or anything). After a long day of filming, didn't Sam and Kate go home and remember that children are not only symbols of the Compromises of Growing Older, but also short, loud people who wake up really early?

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One word on Wendy and Lucy: The in-medias-res slightness Jeannette referred to (Why is Michelle Williams' character a vagrant? How long has she been on the road with her dog? Why didn't she use Craigslist rideshares?) seemed to me a deliberate choice on the part of the director, Kelly Reichardt. Like the Dardenne brothers, those Belgian masters of social realism, Reichardt wanted to make a harrowing miniaturist portrait of a life at the margins and to show how, when you're running on emotional and financial fumes like Wendy is, one bad decision can cost you everything. My only question about Wendy and Lucy is one that would apply to the Dardennes' films as well (and to most movies about economic deprivation, the fine Frozen River being a welcome exception): Isn't Michelle Williams simply too good-looking to be a homeless hobo? If I saw Wendy on a sidewalk grate with Lucy, I'd be less likely to drop a coin in her cup than to ask for the number of the stylist who gave her that great bob. But that kind of physical-appearance upgrade is something we're so used to, especially when it comes to female roles, that my objection flickered and died as the movie, and Williams' incandescent performance, kicked in.

Lisa, I'll throw to you with a wide-open question: What have we not taken on that you'd like to for this final round?

Dana

Jeannette Catsoulis writes about film for the New York Times, Reverse Shot, and Las Vegas CityLife. Lisa Schwarzbaum is a movie critic at Entertainment Weekly. Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic. Jessica Winter is the film critic and senior editor at O, the Oprah MagazineStephanie Zacharek is a senior writer and film critic for Salon.

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