For many of us, the Academy’s neglect of Revolutionary Road this year was nearly as painful as the red ropes they strung up to keep The Dark Knight out of the Champagne Room. Happily, the lack of a BP nomination doesn’t make it any less a masterpiece. Sam Mendes is faced with the classic dilemma of screen adaptations: How to translate the complexity of a novel’s unspoken interior monologues into visual expressionism onscreen.
This clip is a great example. On the surface, it appears to be a standard suburban bedroom & bathrobe confrontation, but “look closer” as the tagline from American Beauty encourages us to do. Check out the framing and lighting clues. Although April Wheeler seems to be riding the crest of giddy enthusiasm, she’s emerging from a shadowy side of the room while a dismal drizzle outside streaks silently down the window and wall. She’s jazzed about Paris, but she’s approaching Frank from a very dark place.
Frank, on the other hand, wants to put a damper on April’s rash plans. He enters the scene from a brightly lit corner, surrounded by strong comfy elements of domestic stability. His words try to tamp down her excitement but since he’s framed in warm light, his negativity doesn’t come across as a downer. His reasonable argument makes us feel safe. But within minutes he’s drawn into a close reverse shot setup with his wife, and the reassuring glow around him begins to dim. April has pulled Frank into the shadows with a dream Frank knows is doomed. The dialogue and the emotions are only one layer. Mendes’ direction — and Deakin’s cinematography — shade the scene with subliminal depth.
I ran across this clip looking for a way to illustrate the frustration some of us share with Frank J. Avella at New York Cool. He’s posted his Oscar predictions and, like me, is still a bit irked at the Academy for overlooking one of the finest movies of the year.