Suburban Sisterhood of Misery.

*Warning, spoilers ahead for the film Revolutionary Road.*

 

When I left the theater immediately after seeing the Kate Winslet/Leo DiCaprio downer Revolutionary Road, I thought that those who’d compared the film, set in the 1950s, to the TV drama Mad Men, set in the 1960s, were off the mark. The movie was nothing at all like the TV show, other than the fact that they were both period pieces and examined families who were dissatisfied with their lives in the suburbs outside of New York City. The tone wasn’t the same. The characters motivated for varied reasons. Plus I adore Mad Men and didn’t really like Revolutionary Road, despite my affection for Winslet.

 

Nevertheless, I thought about them both for a while and then pulled out Mad Men’s first season on DVD. By episode three, it dawned on me that Revolutionary Road and Mad Men were indeed similar but not in the way many critics, who focused on the male leads, were thinking. It was the women, these wives and mothers who had comparable experiences and dreams dashed by life, by marriage and by maternity. The two leading women in the film and the TV show were like a suburban sisterhood of misery. They could’ve formed a club.

 

Winslet’s April Wheeler character has a great deal in common with Betty Draper, played by January Jones. Both characters were college educated and had flashy vocations in New York, April was an actress while Betty was a fashion model. They met dashing, confident, white collar men, DiCaprio’s Frank Wheeler, and Jon Hamm’s Don Draper. They got married. They each had two children – a girl and then a boy – and settled into comfortable lives in large homes in the suburbs while their husbands took the train into New York City to work each day. Slowly, as the haze of their early days of motherhood burned off, April and Betty found themselves with no careers, no more witty repartee with their spouses, two children for whom to care, and not as much time with their husbands because they had to commute each day and often came home late, if at all.

 

April Wheeler’s response to the gradual dimming of the spark between her and Frank was to suggest that they jolt themselves back to life by moving to Paris. She said she’d gladly go to work and support the family as a secretary and let Frank, who was desperately unhappy at his job, figure out what he really wanted to do with his life. Frank, who briefly cheated on April with a gal from work, eagerly hopped on board with April’s plan . . . until he was offered a huge promotion at work. Then he unilaterally put the kibosh on the move. April’s dreams of recapturing her lust for life and re-engaging with the world came crashing down when she learned she was pregnant with her third baby, on top of the fact that the Wheeler family would be staying put. It was as if a jail cell door had been slammed shut.

 

hiccup
02.18.09

I can't believe I'm going to say the central question of a movie or a sitcom is profound, but to me, right now, it really seems so. I think these storylines describe a current truth. Then I have to get a grip and remember that b/c so many good women fought so hard to have more opportunities, and worked like hell to get even a small piece of them, I have more opportunities. I'm not in some suburban death march to dissatisfaction, I'm stalled, and I'm scared by apparently how common the result of marriage and children is, but I'm not exactly dead yet.

I know I can get something back, something that is not my kids but I'm proud of. The real question for me, is what to tell my daughter. Ok, I know I'm taking this a bit far, but I wonder about it a lot. I've made my choices, but the big discussion I don't hear women talking about yet, is what they will say to the next generation. That's a movie I'd pay to see.