Wednesday, July 15, 2009


the first day of classes in a chinese university can be quite entertaining for the english language teachers. on the first day of class, the foreign teachers traditionally introduced themselves, telling the class about who they are and where they're from and what they do in their spare time, speaking slowly to acclimate students to the various american voices. afterwards, once the teacher had spoken, the students introduced themselves. in an effort to become immersed in english language and western ideas, students often chose english names for themselves, which they usually obtained from western films and books. occasionally some students missed the mark altogether (perhaps intentionally) and chose names like "stonebreaker" or "doodoo" or "pony." corey green once had a class that named themselves after the ingredients of a salad bar. he had a watermelon, an apple, a lettuce, a tomato, a celery, an orange, and so on and on. in these rare cases, teachers pulled students aside, inquired about their names and suggested possible changes. "stonebreaker" and "pony" kept their titles; however, i was able to talk "doodoo" into becoming "melissa", which she later changed to "hillary."

the two most popular names in our english department were jack and rose, as inspired by the love story in the film TITANIC. every class had one jack, and every class had at least a dozen girls who wanted to be rose. how the one rose in each class was determined, i'll never know, but they all wanted it. like ladies squabbling over the bouquet at the wedding, i imagined that they fought tooth and nail for the right to be named after kate winslet's hocker spitting heroine.

and who can blame them? i have only seen TITANIC the one time in the theatre, and i remember sitting in the back of the theatre weeping like an insulted child. but my tears had nothing to do with jack and rose. no, i was bent on all the images of old people nestling together in their bed while the water ascended in their cabin and the mother reading to her children as the flood levels reached their bunks and the musicians who all returned to the deck as they could go down playing music together. not that any of those images were true to history, mind you, but i'd just had the cancer, and i was delicate to the notion of facing death with a smirking glare.

i also thought kate winslet was smoking. so maybe there was some of that in my emotions as well.

fast forward to two weeks ago when the wife comes home with a copy of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD from the redbox machine (dear God, what a great invention). suffice it to say, i'm not much for the drama genre. i don't care for love stories or films about families deconstructing. if i want a good love story, i watch something by john hughes. if i need domestic deconstruction, i watch FAMILY GUY. but in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD we have the return of the power duo, the kenny rogers and dolly parton of the silver screen. and after biting my t-shirt in titanic agony once before watching kate and leo, i had to see what they were up to again.

for the most part, i do not suspect that many english teachers in china will have hordes of franks and aprils in their classes this fall. nor do i predict that rings of chinese girls will go to fisticuffs over kate winslet's new namesake. wherein TITANIC we watched the steaming, sweating love of jack and rose soar above a sinking ship, in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD frank and april's love is the sinking ship, and children and neighbors and real estate agents and schizophrenic friends all go down with them. this thing starts on a high plane and swan dives into a ridiculous depth of despair and marital mutilation. this film offers no opportunities to walk away with warm fuzzies, unless you call emotional nausea a "warm fuzzy."

still, there is something in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD that demands consideration. apart from the fact that both lead performers - kate and leo - totally upstage their entire careers up to this point, and besides the fact that the direction and music and narration are impeccably spot-on, the story here is uniquely surprising. to simply suggest that REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a film about one couple's marriage dissolving beneath its own self-propelled floodwaters is a short-sighted dismissal of the film's starkest claims, particularly what it speaks concerning traditional gendered roles. i don't want to say much more than that because the intricacies of frank and april's relationship, as unfolded through hopes wrought and hopes deferred, blew my mind. and i like when people go have their own minds blown. i don't want to steal that from anyone.

all in all, i give REVOLUTIONARY ROAD a 4 out of 5. as a person who prides myself on not being easily shaken by art, i was shocked by how hard this film ran me over, particularly the ending. this film gnawed at me for several days, and even this morning, two weeks later, i'm still grappling with the magnitude of where frank and april led one another. although it may not offer many chinese namesakes or win a spot on the AFI's top films of all times, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is definitely a vessel worth riding all the way to its relentlessly grimy bottom.


myleswerntz said...

good review. I've been wanting to see this one for a while.

But today, I'm watching the new Harry Potter and (hopefully) Burn After Reading. I'll post something pithy on the former and something bigger on the latter. And maybe something on the Planet Earth DVD series.

the hamster said...

thanks for the much welcomed and deserved praise.

you, my friend, are what they call an "eccentric troubadour" and your bullfighting hat knows no bounds. get us a word on each and every of your ocular endeavors. i've got another one coming for a little film called HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.

Anonymous said...

to be honest hamster, i've had little to no desire to see this movie. not because i don't enjoy drama, or the deconstructing of family dynamics, rather i just don't like leaving movies feeling sad about characters. your last line about riding this film to its grimy bottom tugs at me though in a way i wasn't expecting this movie to influence me. i'll admit, your review has pushed this up in my mental queue of movies to rent.

joy langford said...

Sorry, Kevin. I, for one, didn't really like the movie - and not just because of the final scenes. (But thanks for another thought-provoking review!)

Kate and leo do upstage their former performances in a big way (and I am a sucker for excellent performances), and you're right, as an artistic expression, the film is over the top in power and beauty and charge, but I think what I can't get over is the way this screenwriter seems to mess with the tender balance between moving toward revolutionary ideas/dreams and acting in a revolutionary way with the places we find ourselves. I don't know; I just found parts of the story tricky and didn't appreciate all of the themes and people the drama worked to make its audience sympathetic toward... (again, I'm not just talking about the final scenes.)

Anyway, I also believe you could have written better dialogue. Some of it, if not performed so well, could have come across as very average-not all that interesting- apart from the acting. 2 cents from a very tired mommy.

Janna Barber said...

Thanks for refraining from giving too much away. When I saw the first trailer, I really wanted to watch this film. Then I heard how sad it was, and I was scared to see it. Maybe I will try sometime, but it must be planned carefully, so I may not sink with it.

I have long believed Leo is one of the best out in Hollyland. As for Kate, I have only seen her in Titanic, Finding Neverland and E.S. of the S.M. Titanic pulls at the heartstrings and has some beautiful (scenic) moments, but the dialogue and screenplay are simply dreadful!

the hamster said...

joy -

i thought of this film as a cautionary tale, a shout of warning towards the refusal to revolutionize the present tense, a glimpse into what lay ahead when we do not seek contentment and commitment in where we stand and with whom we stand. sure, life sucks sometimes and we all want out, but what happens when everyone wants a different, unattainable "out" and no one is willing to say, "but here we are, and together even." i think the film addresses some of that, which is a timely message to these modern self-entitled generations.

as far as sympathy, i felt that there was no single character in the film (other than the nearly invisible children) to offer sympathy. latonya and i marveled that the story presented each character (primary and secondary) in exposing light: no one was guilty, and no one was right. and it was in the collision of so many refusals and so many fantasies that the bomb finally went off.

we need to talk about this more. i want to better understand what you're referring to when you say "the tender balance between moving toward revolutionary ideas/dreams and acting in a revolutionary way with the places we find ourselves." i'm assuming that we're both seeing the same thing in the film, but just viewing it differently. still, i would like to clarify. you have a depth of insight into art and narratives. i'd like to know more about what you witnessed here.

thanks for commenting. i like when you show up.

Tiffani R said...

The story of teaching English in China was very entertaining! I love the idea of teaching a class full of salad bar names, or with people named pony and stonebreaker. awesome.

I did, however, take a teeny bit of issue with the women fighting over the bouquet comment. Unless said women are between the ages of 17 and 22, then I'll give you a little bit of grace. Because from about 23 on, I have yet to meet a single woman who even wants to stay in the room during that, um, parade of singleness. :)

But, sorry, back to the movie. I had wanted to see this, but reluctantly. Your review left me at odds - I really prefer happier movies (no one who knows me will be surprised by this) and don't relish the idea of watching a marriage destroy itself. At the same time, I love raw honesty and I feel like there may be some truth in this film based on your review.

I can't recall if its on my netflix queue right now, but I might have to go back and make sure it is. Though it may be at the bottom....

joy langford said...

So... I love these paragraphs even more than the first things you said about the film. You're articulating precisely what I meant to get at by whatever I said about "a tender balance." I think we actually are seeing the same thing- just viewing it differently (again, as you said). The difference may have something to do with our expectations of an audience... and what I've perhaps wrongly presumed about a screenwriter's intentions. I think an audience could see what you've expressed so well about this being a cautionary tale- a sobering advocate for contentment and commitment (this is definitely what I saw); but I can also see it saying other things to people-especially the creative, sensitive, dreaming sort of person frustrated by her/his everydayness.

the hamster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Langford said...


thanks so much for your brilliant review. My wife has the much more critical eye in her review (compared to me)- I am the "creative, sensitive, dreaming sort of person frustrated by her/his everydayness" that she put in her last comment, though she'd claim it was merely a generalization... :) We (she and I) had a pretty intense conversation about this movie as we left the theater, because it jacked me up. I couldn't see so clearly the ways it had drawn me in so and was down in the grimy bottom, really sympathetic to Kate... All that aside, though, I very much enjoyed it. thanks again for your thoughts.

myleswerntz said...

I like what Janna said: I rewatched BLOOD DIAMOND recently, and was reminded again that I do like DiCaprio. I've liked him since GILBERT GRAPE, which I saw post-Titanic.

the hamster said...

i'm also with janna and myles: i've never had a reason not to like the leo. except maybe CRITTERS 3, which i never saw all the way through, so who can count that?

honestly, i think it's dumb when dudes rail on leo being so awful when he's so amazing. your jealousy does not discredit his goodness.

his girlfriend is pretty cute though. even when she wears a stephen king story as a body suit. or especially when she does.

Latonya said...

i didn't know she was/is leo's girlfriend.