(out of 5)
WARNING! The suburbs are bad for you–I know, I know, you might not know this despite the fact that it’s been dealt with in only seven hundred million other movies. What’s even stranger is that the film this one rips off, American Beauty, was directed by Sam Mendes, who is also at the helm here. He directs his wife Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio (together for the first time since Titanic) in a moody, tragic story about the forcing of the American Dream upon unwilling sleepers. DiCaprio and Winslet buy into the suburban paradise when she gets pregnant and he realizes he’s stuck to his office job, her dreams of acting on Broadway gradually falling away as she has one child after another. She gets the idea to save them from this Stepford nightmare by insisting that the whole troupe pick up and move to Paris, where she can get a lucrative job as a secretary and he can figure out what he really wants out of life. Can they do it, though, or is post-War American capitalism far too great an obstacle to overcome? The entire story can be predicted within the first ten minutes of the film, but oddly enough, this doesn’t make it difficult to sit through. The two stars have marvelous chemistry and do wondrous things for the material, Winslet in particular giving so much incredible gravity to some painfully overwritten dialogue: “And you know what’s so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is however long they’ve lived without it. No one forgets the truth, Frank, they just get better at lying.” When a character like hers isn’t showing too much self-awareness to be believable, we’re stuck with ones like Kathy Bates as the couple’s realtor and friend, whose performance cannot be faulted but whose role practically veers into caricature. Thankfully Mendes is somewhat aware of the familiarity of the material, so he focuses on making everything inevitable rather than predictable, but he still can’t avoid obvious imagery like having DiCaprio stand still amid thousands of fedorad businessmen running the rat race…ooh, really stealthy symbolism going on there. Gleaming cinematography helps a lot, as does a rich musical score and, most impressive, Albert Wolsky’s glamorous costume designs that harken the viewer back to an era that, as we’ve been told time and time again, never really existed.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Music by Thomas Newman
Production Design by Kristi Zea
Costume Design by Albert Wolsky
Film Editing by Tariq Anwar