Monday, January 05, 2009

You Say You Want a Revolution.

I have never done a movie review here but it’s time -- mostly because the only other thing I want to write about is how I'm the only person I know who loves fruitcake (No thanks, I don’t want the one you’ve been using to keep the shed door closed. When it comes to fruitcake, I have standards).

So, with only three digressions, I now present my review of “Revolutionary Road.”

Digression #1: If I may brag a bit, Consort and I are pretty great at handling stress together. Instinctively, we trade off who gets to be the Sane One and who gets to be the Other One. Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve day we both opted to be the Other One. This might have had something to do with the fifteen errands which suddenly ballooned from “Niggling” to “Mandatory”. Or it might have been the keyed-up child buzzing around the house, ramping up the keyed-up dog, both of them running into an adult or a breakable object every nine minutes. Most likely, it was that we were going to the Christmas Eve service in which Daughter's friends were in the pageant. Owing to the popularity of the pageant-service, we knew we had to be in a pew no later than a half-hour before the service.

Sadly, on Christmas Eve my house entered a worm-hole and came back out the other side having lost two hours. At the moment we should have been sitting down in church I was standing in my house grabbing random members of the family and shrieking “Have NONE of you showered?” Consort, surprisingly, found this a less than embracing environment and started snapping at me. I snapped back. I was aggressive and he was defensive, and then we tried it the other way, which was also fun. Daughter, sensing the parents weren’t on their game and might be divided, angled to open a present right then; we briefly reconfigured as a single unit to shut that idea down. We squabbled all the way to church, mostly in two words sentences on his part and operatic sighing on mine. Once we finally arrived, we ended sitting in an area I think the church elders traditionally refer to as “The broom closet”. But we did see her friends perform adorably and by the time the pageant was over, good humor had been restored and the spirit of the season was upon us all again. I still want everyone to know that I was right, though.

Digression #2: On Christmas eve, the playwright Harold Pinter died. In case you lead a life with few playwrights in it, know that he was probably the most influential writer of his generation. I don’t suggest just picking up a play of his, though, and expecting to shout “Yes! That’s some fine and highly influential playwriting!” because you won’t. His dialogue consists of small bits of information cushioned by pillows of pauses and silences. The more consequential the characters' discussion, the shorter the sentences become and the more carefully noted the pauses. Directed badly, it’s like being forced to listen to someone else’s tax audit. Directed correctly, it’s riveting; the layers of what isn’t being said choking in the characters' throats, invisible to all but the audience.

Digression #3: There’s an acting exercise wherein the actor does a scene but, instead of saying the dialogue as written, he verbalizes what his character wants and what is stopping him from achieving these goals. After you do the scene in this manner you go back to the dialogue which might be about something else entirely, but the words are now infused with the underlying motivation. “Can I have a slice of your pizza?” should sound different if your character is delirious with desire than if she just found out the other person had bankrupted her company. The malocclusion between the small talk and the big wishes of the character make things far more interesting.

Christmas night, after Daughter finally collapsed from glee, Consort and I sat down to watch Revolutionary Road.” Within minutes, the husband and wife were in a car having a fight. Consort and I, having some experience with this, watched with a practiced eye. At the end of the scene, Consort said “This scene should have been three sentences.” I agreed. If you've been together for years, you fight in shorthand. We’re supposed to understand they’ve been unhappy for a while, so we know this couple would go from zero to sixty, argumentatively, in less than five seconds. Instead, we had a lot of “We live here, I feel this, I am this kind of person who wants this in life.” This was the fight of two people who barely knew one another and had been through copious therapy; which is to say, not these two people. But I felt generous and was still digesting fruitcake, so I decided to stay with the movie for a while. Maybe the scene was an aberration.

But it wasn’t. The entire movie was an endless litany of the underlying motivations and fears of this couple, played ably by Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio who could have done so much more with so much less. The writer gave the audience no credit for being able to read between the lines, choosing instead to fill that space between the lines with lots and lots of words. Heartbreak, betrayal and grief do better as “Show” than as “Tell” and both actors were more than up to the task. A few Pinteresque pauses would have been so much more affecting than the PowerPoint presentation of suburban anomie we were forced to sit through.

In the end, both people were unhappy and I didn’t care. I knew too much and had learned nothing at all. I just wanted quiet. I prodded Consort, who had fallen asleep to get away from them. “Is it over?” he asked, stretching. I nodded, and removed the cat from my lap and stood up. Looking down at Consort on the couch I was filled with a flood of thoughts, mostly about how grateful I was for him and how he ignores my more virulent moods. What a good person he was. How happy I was that we weren’t making each other miserable in the suburbs. I toyed with telling him all of that but decided I could cover the whole topic with an affectionate pause and “You go to bed. I’ll get your Benadryl.”


Blogger Not The Rockefellers said...

I get this.

Thank you, just...Thank you.

Peace to you and your family in 2009 - Rene

1:44 PM  
Blogger CDP said...

I was thinking about seeing this, but as I have limited movie time, I think I'll save it for something else. Happy New Year!

2:48 PM  
Blogger Char said...

I so know that feeling with the fighting shorthand. thanks for saving me from wondering about it.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Kathryn in NZ said...

So with you on that time sucking black hole... and I have a real thing about being late. Fortunately I too have a fab hubby who bears with me.
Long may their patience endure

7:57 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...


For what you and Consort share.

(And your way with the written word.)

9:12 PM  
Blogger bethany actually said...

This is the second negative review of Revolutionary Road I've read on a blog. I don't think I'll be seeing it, based on both reviews. Thanks!

(The other review is at if you're interested.)

10:11 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

'They' say Kate Winslet is better in "The Reader" which I read in preparation to see the movie. You've so ably summed up "Revolutionary Road" that I feel free to skip it now. So, thanks. I appreciate that.

(My husband of 21 years and I never fight anymore. I have the whole fight in my head--I can do both parts and save us both a lot of time that way.)

11:52 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Beautiful post.

I feel as if I should send you the money we would have wasted on the movie.

I said I FEEL like I should. I wont. But, isn't it the thought that counts?

5:52 AM  
Blogger Dodi said...

No kidding on all that dialogue! Long term partners / married people can have an entire fight with two words and a "look".

Happy New Year!

P.S. Love the part about your daughter spying the opportunity to try to get that first present open! You gotta love that they always try - the eternal optimists!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Slats said...

My husband of 28 years and I communicated most precisely by use of the endearment "honey." Miles of dialogue could be bypassed with that one, carefully intoned, word.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I've enjoyed lurking and reading for while. You're a very talented writer and storyteller. Thank you for the review. I love Kate Winslet and would probably have gone to see it, but I don't like wordy movies. I might watch it when it comes out on DVD.

You were so right in your assessment of a true-to-life marital argument. I've been married almost 37 years.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous ginger said...

Hey Quinn,
So happy your back. Hope u had a great christmas and a happy new year to you. Its a great moment when you realize you have married the right person.... Ginger

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

I love fruitcake. I don't know why the rest of the world has a problem with it. My dad says he likes it, but he'll eat that crummy cake-only stuff that mom buys for $1.99 that consists mostly of cake with some fanciful bits of green stuff and a cherry thrown in, plus an odd walnut for variety of texture. I can't count on him to be at the forefront of a fruitcake purchasing excursion.

On other topics: less is more! Less is more! Show don't tell! (That's day one stuff.)

3:25 PM  
Blogger Michaéle said...

My S/O is an endless fountain of patience, some of which I wish I could glean. He just never gets mad at me, which I sometimes take as a challenge, but lately, I have been feeling grateful for it.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, bad comment, I'm sure, but I'm just very curious. You said you and Consort sat down to watch the movie after Daughter collapsed from glee, so it sounds like you were at home? Isn't the movie still in theaters? Just wondering...

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Academy screener? Just guessing.

7:01 PM  
Blogger ~Mad said...

..."His dialogue consists of small bits of information cushioned by pillows of pauses and silences."

Your turn of a phrase just amazes me (every time.)


8:16 AM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

**spoiler alert** (not like it matters, no one should see this movie)

I really wish I had read this post before going to the damned movie.

It was so incredibly terrible. I can't remember the last time somebody died and all I was thinking was "Geeze, my ass hurts from sitting here too long."

And then Ms. Winslet (who should have gotten awards on so many other occasions when her acting was awesome) gets it for this horribly directed mess?

I will never understand.

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best fruitcake ever:
In case the link does not work- Trappist Abbey fruitcake
Chris in NY

8:43 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

This is a beatiful, eclectic, well written piece. I liked your review and it's enough to hold me back from seeing the movie. I never saw American Beauty because I heard similar reviews of that, despite all the hype and acclaim.

Keep writing, and I can't wait till the book comes out!

1:27 PM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

Rebecca: You are right, there are a BUNCH of times Kate Winslet should have gotten an award; maybe she got it as an apology award?

She wouldn't be the first; Elizabeth Taylor did a couple of fabulous movies that should have garnered her awards, but didn't, and she wound up getting an award for a much lesser film, done in a lesser fashion. There have been a few actors and actresses who've gotten Apology Awards.

10:40 AM  

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