Winslet and DiCaprio Under Mendes
by Eric Green
I haven't read Richard Yates book, but I would be surprised, had he lived to see this British film version, that he would have been profoundly disappointed. Why? Well you have the great British actress, Kate Winslet, playing the major female role, April Wheeler. And, I guess, for Hollywood sake, Leonardo DiCaprio plays her husband, John. The accomplished US actor, Kathy Bates was casted to play a key-supporting role. She is usually a very strong character role. And, the story line is a popular one.
All the right roles were put forward. The newly married, then unhappy couple at the start of the beginning of the US living style supremacy. The film was set in the early 1950s. This was the image of the "streets being lined with gold" in the past WWII period. Big car, a Buick Roadmaster, and a large split level home. Two young kids, who, for some reason disappear for most of the film. Clean, suburban living with white-collar jobs. DiCaprio is the angry dissatisfied corporate link in the chain of producing nothing important. And, Winslet is the unhappy, dissatisfied wife. Yes, all the ingredients that we saw in the Ice Palace 11 years ago.
But, what Ang Lee was able to put together in the Ice Palace, in 1997, and drawing major awards; Sam Mendes, in this film, failed miserably. But, its not that Mendes can't handle the film version of angst and alienation in the US white, middle strata population. His American Beauty, in 1997, with Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening more than accomplished that mission.
But, Hollywood was demanding a repeat performance between DiCaprio and Winslet that they had in the Titanic in 1997. What may have worked then, as two young, energetic interesting characters didn't at all click in this suburban film. It is hard to discern if the problem was that Mendes directed them to be distant and lacking in any real loving way; and, went too far. Or, that these older versions of the same two actors just didn't click.
And, it wasn't, I think, because of the topic. It was also in the dialogue. At some points the interchange between the two seemed more like just reading lines, monologues, than a cold, dispassionate attacks. Justin Haythe was the screenwriter.
Another point is that there was a totally unnecessary focus on the angst of the male actor, DiCaprio, and not the similar anguish of the female role, Winslet. This became ridiculously apparent with the final scenes where Winslet was clearly going through difficult life experiences and all you see as DiCaprio's problems in dealing with the events. This over focus on DiCaprio, I guess, was supposed to show his acting abilities and move him toward an Oscar; it did the opposite. His overacting and bursts of anger were never believable.
Mendes, and I assume Yates, used a mentally ill patient to point out the unstated, but deeply felt troubles that the Wheelers were facing. Michael Shannon played the role of John Givings. He was good, but under better direction, he could have been far more effective.
The dragging out of the end of the film was totally unnecessary. The last two scenes were again, unnecessary.
The final disappointment of this film was its music score. The saccharine themes were relentless replayed to a point I was looking for the "mute" button.
How did this film gain Golden Globe Awards is beyond me. Hollywood seems to get more of what it wants in the GG Awards than, let's hope, the Oscars.
And, to even compare Winslet as Hanna Schmitz and then as April Wheeler is more than apples and oranges. In this film Winslet was totally wasted; while in The Reader she was at the top of her game.
A Note: For those of us following the discussion of abortions in the film industry, this film did not contribute to an even discussion. While the option was utilized, the end result could make those opposed happy. But, on the other had, had abortion been legal, with medical help, then, a better outcome could have taken place. But, that was left to the viewers to determine.