My favorite time of the year for movies is Oscar season, not in February when the winners are announced, but during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years when the movies that could be in contention are released. Here in Los Angeles, I’m surrounded by people in the Guilds who receive a stack of “screeners” allowing them to sit home in their pjs and watch what I’m paying $13 to see in chairs coated with popcorn grease. Not that I’m bitter. I’m particularly excited about this year’s crop because so many are based on literature – “The Reader,” “Benjamin Button,” “Doubt” (okay, this one is based on a play, a really good play), “Revolutionary Road,” and, of course, “Marley and Me.”
On a lark, Claire and I decided to predict the winner of the Oscar for Writing, Adapted Screenplay, I’m hoping others will play along and give us their choices before the “big night.” A little history for those of you who get snacks when this award is announced; there are two writing awards, one for writing a screenplay adapted from another work such as a novel or play (think Emma Thompson winning in 1995 for “Sense and Sensibility”) and the second for writing an original screenplay not based on any previously published work (think Tom Schulman in 1989 for “Dead Poets Society”).
I’m starting by looking at “Revolutionary Road,” screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Yates. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are together again, but now on dry land. They’ve had fake sex on film so many times I wonder if they even have to rehearse. A brief synopsis that doesn’t give away the book: Frank and April Wheeler are just turning thirty, living in the suburbs with two young children, April stays home with the kids while Frank commutes to a job he hates in the city. The Wheelers were something special during their single/college years, but are now looking at their life and feeling trapped. (Sidebar: The book was published in 1961 and deals with the 1950s era, I find it interesting that the Wheelers have a home, two kids and a mid-life crisis by age 30 while currently we’re hoping our kids are out of the house by then.)
April decides to stop settling and convinces Frank to chuck their mundane middle-class life before it is too late, sell everything, and move to Paris. How this plan proceeds is the plot of the book, but not its meaning. For, me it explores how we transition from what we thought we were going to be when we were young and promising, to what we are, for better or for worse. As a woman, I noticed how many more options I feel I have in 2008 than April Wheeler had in the late 1950s.
Both the book and the movie relayed the feeling of how bored the Wheelers feel with their lives. The repeated slow moving camera sweeps of the neighborhood, the commute, and the house portray a very stagnant existence. The first thing I said to my husband when the movie ended, “And that is why we don’t live in the suburbs.”
Leonardo DiCapro is an excellent Frank, living out his showmanship with his constant talking and his emotions with the swings from frustration to caring. I think the portrayal of the relationship with the office girl was weakest part of the screenplay. I don’t think that relationship can be eliminated from the story, yet it didn’t carry it’s weight of significance in the few scenes where it occurred.
What I found most intriguing was Kate Winslet’s portrayal of April. The author writes the book largely from Frank’s perspective, a little from Shep’s and Mrs. Givings, and only a very small part from April’s point of view at the end of the book. I realized Frank was an unreliable narrator particularly with regard to April. I wondered what she really thought at times. That question isn’t answered because the screenwriter only has what the book tells us, which is largely what Frank tells us. Nevertheless, I felt as if I finally met April when I saw the movie. Ms. Winslet’s portrayal matched what I envisioned, but by feeling as if I was seeing her point of view, my opinion of Frank worsened. He looked much more like an insecure blowhard in the movie. In this regard, I think the movie filled out the book by giving April a stronger presence.
My hands down favorite parts occurred with the fool, John Givings, a man on afternoon furloughs from the state insane asylum, visits to point out the elephants in the Wheelers and their relationship. In my opinion, the fool, both in the book, but especially in the movie, is beautifully written by the author and the screenwriter. Michael Shannon, the actor who played John Givings, deserves a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The movie is excellent, but these scenes stand out above the rest.
Overall, I was impressed by the movie’s presentation of the book. I’m looking forward to seeing more flms in the next week to see how they compare.
UPDATE: Kate Winslet won the award for Best Actress in a Drama Film for her role as April Wheeler at the Golden Globe Awards. In a very tearful acceptance speech, she thanked Richard Yates for writing such a wonderful book and character.
UPDATE: I’m shocked, no nomination for Writing Adapted Screenplay, in fact the only significant nomination is for Best Supporting Actor for Michael Shannon, deservedly so.