Carly at the Movies | Desperation down the road, plus Harvey’s last chance

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau observed that the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. Whether he was right or wrong, we’ve certainly made tons of movies with that same quiet desperation as an underlying theme.
“Revolutionary Road,” nominated for a trio of Oscars and still playing at the Regal Harrisonburg 14, is set in the mid-1950s, exactly 100 years after Hank made his pithy remark, and things don’t seem to have improved much.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, having survived “Titanic,” rejoin forces and attempt to somehow overcome the crush of conformity that smothered America back in those post-WWII days.

The cinematography is marvelous, so two of the Oscar noms, Art Direction and Costume Design, are understandable. The whole production design is formal and reserved, the period music perfect, but in these times of economic peril it can be difficult to look back at life in that era without wondering what all the fuss was about.

Leo and Kate have the American Dream, as it was dreamed back then, on a chain. A lovely suburban house, a couple of kids, he’s got a secure job and commutes to New York City with thousands of other similarly-garbed white collar workers.

But they’re vaguely dissatisfied. He’s never found his true calling, and she’s wondering “is this all there is to it?” Their friends are duds, their life seems pointless and – mostly to break the boredom – they both flirt with infidelity.

She tries to salvage the sinking ship, suggesting they dump the dream and move to Paris. She’ll get a job, she claims, and he can “find himself,” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. His co-workers and their suburban neighbors all think they’ve gone nuts, of course. And this pair works so well and so easily together that you’ll truly want them to survive, overcome, save the marriage, and get the hell out of Dodge.

Director Sam Mendes is great at this kind of period piece – remember “American Beauty” in 1999? He steered Kevin Spacey to a Best Actor Oscar in that one, and Kate would have been nominated for this one if she hadn’t lost out to her own performance in “The Reader.” On the “Road” again, she’s already picked up a Golden Globe. All in all, it’s a good year for everyone involved.

“Revolutionary Road” is based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates, and hits only one wrong note as far as I’m concerned. In a very early scene, our two leads get into a raging argument on the way home after Kate has performed in a less-than-perfect community theater production. It’s there to show us how dissatisfied the characters are with their lives, but comes before we’ve really met them, so the scene seems full of histrionics and “acting.” After that hump, the road to perdition is bumpily smooth and the ending is perfect.

If you’re feeling a bit like you’re aging, and disengaged, and estranged from your family (that should cover most of us), there’s another film playing in Harrisonburg with a slightly (just slightly) more cheerful take on life.

The film is “Last Chance Harvey,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, and I would have seen this film no matter what anyone thought of it. I’m a big time Emma Thompson fan (I’ll even forgive her “Nanny McPhee”), and she’s quite wonderful in this one.

How refreshing is it to see a movie about “people of a certain age” who have outgrown both pimples and selfishness? And the incredibly unlikely pair of Hoffman and Thompson (her at least six inches taller) play the slight script like two skilled musicians rendering a violin duet.

He’s estranged from his daughter’s wedding (no, this isn’t “About Schmidt”), she’s resigned to a loveless life with her mom; she’s English, he’s American, but somehow they hook up and are delicious together.

It’s a fun, if formulaic, film, and worthwhile for those of us who went to “Doubt” just to see the acting.


– Column by Carl Larsen

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