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Books to Film: Revolutionary Road

abstract:Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road (Vintage) was first published in 1961. It rocked people’s worlds then, but drifted off the radar screen until now. December 26th it will be rediscovered by modern audiences through the release of the feature film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Justin Haythe. It is the story of a young married couple, April and Frank Wheeler who live in the eponymous suburb that is a bedroom community of New York set in the '50s. Revolutionary Road is being compared in its film version to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and significant Oscar buzz surrounds the lead actors. Take the opportunity to discover Yates now.

article:

October 07, 2008
The geographic middle ground of Revolutionary Hill Estates has none of the excitement of the big city or the rugged charm of the country, but instead embodies a bland middle ground of compromise. It is a metaphor for the couples’ own impressions of self-worth, and by extension a statement on the plight of a whole generation.

April is caught in the sexual politics dilemma of the era before effective birth control. Unable to control her desires or her body’s fertile reproductive functions, she becomes pregnant. True to the times, she accepts the blame for ruining both she and her husband’s carefree lives. The incubatory period of their post grad educations is truncated and career aspirations are dashed. April stolidly becomes the little housewife, while Frank takes a menial job at his father’s old firm in order to support his new family. Despite their youthful optimism and “get on with it” attitude, they crave a more exciting life—the life they were destined to have before reality stepped in. As time marches on, both drift into routines of quiet frustration. April is desperate to breakout of the mommy role, and Frank's ritual pencil sharpening and paper shuffling at the office doesn't fool anyone including himself. He joins his regular cadre of staff buffoons for liquid lunches in Manhattan. Ironically just as Frank's self-awareness begins to twitch above his subconscious, and he begins to examine the question, "What if pregnancy and conjugal responsibility hadn’t intervened?" April's is one step ahead with a plot of her own.

The details of their lives unravel when April, now restless with young school-age children, determines to free Frank from his work-week misery by removing the financial burdens for the young family in a perceived hair-brained scheme to sell the family home, take an overseas secretarial job for NATO and offer the family a European adventure. This would let Frank quit his boring job and use the freedom to re-imagine his true calling. What they discover is that the world order seems not to want to allow the shift in fate. The question of free will versus destiny is about to be tested.

We discover from other characters in the book that Frank and April are both more desirable than they give themselves credit. Frank's boss newly alerted to his sense of awakening and latent capabilities, promises Frank a whole new career opportunity within his present firm as part of a handpicked team in a new division. The dawning age of business computer technology threatens to lure Frank from April’s European plans, and the old pregnancy excuse threatens to return April to a cycle of dependency, a situation she may or may not take into her own hands—against Frank’s express wishes, as he begins to see the pregnancy as the way out of his own work-manhood dilemma.

The two characters allow extramarital relationships to tide their respective loneliness and unfulfilled ego, and those side stories play an important part in contributing to the story’s raw truths about marriage, fidelity, and gender differences. But just as it is with the best works of literature, the power of the story is in the surprise ending. I sincerely hope that the good people at Dreamworks and screenwriter Justin Haythe don’t mess this one up with a Hollywood ending. I can’t believe they will.

If the Wikipedia entry can be trusted, the interesting backstory as to why the film was never adapted for film earlier than this is a lesson to all would-be authors being approached by persons in the industry. Quite simply, the rights to Revolutionary Road were bought from a star-glazed Yates by Director, John Frankenheimer shortly after Revolutionary was released, but the director ended up making The Manchurian Candidate instead. (Not that we fault him for that.) Then producer Albert Ruddy bought the property for $15,500. When after five years he had still not done anything about it, the frustrated Yates offered to buy his own property back. Instead it was sold to the actor Patrick O’Neil who attempted what Yates described as a "gawd-awful" attempt to adapt it. Both O’Neil and Yates died in 1992.

This film will mark the first time DiCaprio, Winslet, and Bates have worked together on a film since the 1997 blockbuster, Titanic, and the first time Winslet has worked with her husband Sam Mendes. This will also be the first time DiCaprio plays a father in one of his films. As mentioned earlier, considerable Oscar buzz surrounds the film. But after the recent disappointment of the latest Coen Brothers film, "Burn After Opening", this reviewer is waiting for Christmas to decide.

If your book group is looking for ways to enliven your meetings, the addition of a "Book to Film" selection is one great idea: read the book, go see the movie and critique them together over dinner afterwards!

 

 

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