Misery – that’s what they should have called it. The irony is that here, Kathy Bates is relegated to a two dimensional stock character with which Frank and April Wheeler (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet respectively) interact with in this Richard Yates unsentimental tale concerning an even more acrimonious marriage.
Winslet and DiCaprio play two of the most self-absorbed, self-superior people you will ever encounter. Believing that they were subjected to the horror that is suburban living rather than a hyper idealized reality neither has come close to realising, we are subjected to their constant insults and battles in which both try their best to outdo each other in terms of hatred for the rut they have fallen into and each other.
Whereas in the Yates novel, the reader will at least feel nothing other than unadulterated pity for the Wheelers, in this piece all one can feel is what they themselves are meant to evoke. Unfortunately this is far from a coup on the part of the production.
From beginning to end, the two rather than shrugging off their failures (April fails to perform like the actress she believes she should be in a local play; Frank is in a job he hates to support a family we can only feel he hates more), embrace them, drinking them down along with the contents of a fully stocked drinks cabinet that one could assume is a large part of their weekly budget. Momentary reprieve is found when the family seek to flee the confines of the commuter belt to live a jolie existence in Paris but the stifling nature of Sam Mendes’s direction combined with the yet more oblique score to the piece signal from the first scene that this piece will never end in something other than absolute destruction of this family unit.
Perhaps the single largest failing though in this film is Mendes’s direction and overall vision for the piece. It is so detached and cold that we are never able to get involved with the characters, merely be subjected to them. We feel everything they are supposed to feel but seem unable to fully realize which the director obviously hopes will only draw you in more but realistically severs you from the action entirely beyond feeling like an innocent bystander. You never believe for one second that these people truly loved each other or even themselves considering the thorough disregard they show for each other and their children who are used more as furniture in need of storage in other people’s houses, than anything else.
The one man supposed to be able to really convey what they feel is gratingly, someone deemed insane which becomes such an obvious directors tool that one can do nothing other than laugh and cheer that someone finally gets what the problem is. Unfortunately when they begin to ignore his advice we still have roughly half an hour worth of film afterwards that we must still sit through, in which neither character seems capable of letting go of that which restrains their acting and physicality.
Ultimately, we hate these two as much as they mean to hate each other because there has been no catharsis; no release. As a result, one can feel nothing but relief when things finally unravel entirely because it means we can collect our coats and leave the theatre, sure in the knowledge that we’re not them.