Quick Picks: “Revolutionary Road,” “Last Chance Harvey”

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet pair up again -- equally dire consequences -- in "Revolutionary Road."

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet pair up again -- with equally dire consequences -- in "Revolutionary Road."

“Revolutionary Road” (Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon)

Deferring dreams, poet Langston Hughes warned us over half a century ago, is a messy, even explosive business. Nowhere is that truth more evident than Sam Mendes’ gorgeously lensed, powerfully acted “Revolutionary Road.” In fact, Frank (DiCaprio), a dissatisfied businessman, and April, his deeply unhappy wife, have a powder keg of a suburban New England 1950s marriage — she wants a new life in Paris and will do anything to make it happen; he wants the change, too, but lacks the guts to leave the comfortable, settled job and life he knows. All that dissatisfaction translates into an atmosphere of unrelenting tension and despair communicated beautifully by DiCaprio and Winslet. DiCaprio finds the right mix of uncontrollable anger and wordless despair in Frank, a kind of Everyman who doesn’t like to look back but can’t quite move forward, either. He won’t be honest with himself, the mentally ill son (a superbly caustic Shannon) of a neighbor harshly points out, so he’s just stuck. As for Winslet, well, this might be the best acting she’s done (which is really saying something). She’s equal parts bitterness and vulnerability as April, and her eyes alone — sad but anxious, like those of a deer trapped in headlights — are enough to make “Revolutionary Road” much more than some whiny diatribe on suburban life. This one hits right where it hurts: the heart.

Grade: A

“Last Chance Harvey” (Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson)

It’s perhaps not an accident that Hoffman plays a commercial jingle writer in “Last Chance Harvey,” a quietly charming romantic comedy that at times, most unfortunately, seems like a clever commercial ruined by loud, formulaic music. On second thought, no, that’s exactly what Joel Hopkins’ movie is. That’s a pity, too, because actors don’t come much more likable, charming, or deserving of a leading role than Hoffman and Thompson. Still, “Last Chance Harvey” isn’t quite a lost cause, probably because the aforementioned leads make — pardon, ahem, the pun — beautiful music together. Hoffman is Harvey, a divorced, failed jazz pianist-turned-jingle maker in London for his slightly estranged daughter’s wedding. At Heathrow, he meets Kate (Thompson), a survey taker who’s just weathered a really, really bad blind date. There aren’t sparks, exactly, but there is a conversation that, Roger Ebert might say, “threatens to continue for a lifetime.” The words turn into new friendship, then genuine affection, then trust, then love. The chief joy of “Last Chance Harvey” is watching that slow, satisfying bloom — and Hoffman and Thompson are up to the task. Hoffman nails Harvey’s moving transformation from dejection to hope, and nobody covers stark vulnerability with awkward humor quite like the divine Thompson. Seeing them stumble, then walk tentatively into romance feels like a breakthrough, and one bright enough to counter the “dramatic plot points” and cutesy background tunes. They don’t make romantic comedies like this anymore.

Grade: B+

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