Everything is in its place in 1950’s suburban Connecticut, where Frank and April Wheeler (played by Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet) live in their nice house with their two children. After seven years of marriage, theirs is a conservative and predictable life in which Frank sets off for work each day and April goes about her household tasks, with occasional social interactions with friends and neighbours. Frank and April are accepting of their regular and stable world, but somehow they also feel that although they have resigned themselves to this life, they’re really deserving of something better – so they’re scornful of their friends’ and neighbours’ “little” lives behind their backs. Frank feels his job is mundane, so he puts little effort into it – he has much bigger ideas, but he’s never actually thought about what his passion in might be. April has long given up her real dream – to become an actress. To Frank’s delight, things at the office finally start to turn around and greater prospects are in the wind for him – just as April’s frustration gets the better of her and she gets the marvellous idea to sell everything and move to Paris – after all, this a long-time dream of Frank’s. She could find a well paying secretarial job and Frank could “find himself” and his passion! At first Frank resists, but then he seems to warm to the whole idea – so their lives blossom with promise. They employ real estate agent Mrs Givings (by Kathy Bates), who is accompanied by her emotionally tormented son, John (by Michael Shannon). Just when everything is falling into place, things start to change in the Wheelers’ lives – what does this mean about their imminent move to Paris? …. April just can’t bear the thought that it may not happen soon, so she decides to do whatever it takes to get herself out of her unhappy life …
This movie had the potential to become a drudge. It’s very hard to describe it to someone without it sounding like “just a story about a couple ‘going through the motions’ in a deteriorating relationship” – and who wants to watch that? But it is actually so much more – and far more than I expected. The story is mostly told through Frank and April’s dialogue and primarily set in their home (which sounds like a bore), but it is developed very well with excellent dramatic construction and cinematography – which creates a compelling story. Both lead characters (Di Caprio and Winslet) are marvellous. It was after seeing this movie that I really changed my opinion about Leonardo Di Caprio’s talent as an actor. I had previously only seen him in “Titanic” (again alongside Kate Winslet), but since this, I’ve watched several more (The Departed, Catch Me If You Can, Blood Diamond, The Aviator and J. Edgar), all of which showcase his depth of talent and ability to empathise to bring characters with intensity to the screen. Kate Winslet is luminous, beautiful and wonderful here. Kathy Bates is fabulous as the eccentric real estate agent Mrs Givings – but the real accolades go to Michael Shannon who plays her unstable and “teller of home-truths” son, John. He is a catalyst in this movie and he performs that role exquisitely – with great timing. In 2010, Michael Shannon received an Academy Award (Oscar) nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of John here.
The movie is an adaptation of the excellent first novel by Richard Yates which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1962. The timing and structure of the movie is wonderful – well done Sam Mendes.
Made in 2009. Directed by Sam Mendes.