Prettier people do make for prettier problems, though. There are several stunning shots, especially during the opening scenes when they first meet, in which DiCaprio and Winslet seem to have stepped out of one of the era's Douglas Sirk melodramas, flush with Technicolor allure.
Dark and dashing. Blond and sleek. They are the very essence of masculine and feminine. If Frank and April aren't quite as special as those in their idolizing circle would believe, the actors who play them certainly don't disappoint.
Kathy Bates, Titanic's Unsinkable Molly Brown who once more is entangled in the pair's affairs, this time as a nosy real estate agent, acknowledges the impact of seeing Leo and Kate together again: "It was just a thrill. It was sort of like the animal wrangler brought these two rare white tigers on the set. You were fascinated and wanted to watch them every minute, but you weren't allowed to pet them. It just raised every element of the working experience."
Winslet, never one to indulge any vanity onscreen, cares not a whit about all that. She prefers their haggard looks when everything starts going to hell.
"It was important to Sam that the story would largely be told in close-up," she says. "So you could see every single scar, every single mark, every wrinkle on everyone's face. Particularly, Frank and April. So you don't feel as an audience alienated by that sort of '50s glossy image."
Still, they can't help but exude old-fashioned movie-star glamour even under the most harrowing of circumstances.
"I would have to be clinically insane not to want to direct these two people in these two roles," Mendes says. "I'm on record as saying that I love the fact that an American audience brings an existing relationship to bear on an actor's performance. I like that when you see Paul Newman in a movie, you're not just seeing Paul Newman, but you are seeing Hud, Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie and Cool Hand Luke. Actors are the sum of everything they bring to the screen."
He sensed their pasts resonating as they inhabited Frank and April. "That is what is so exciting about Leo. You remember that boy. He still has the vulnerability and beauty of that child in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Kate has that same thing. She somehow retains that little girl, that innocence and naïveté. And that sense of play, no matter however serious she gets."
Once they stop doing their sell job on "Revolutionary Road," the Kate and Leo show can be quite amusing. When asked to name his favorite movie of hers, DiCaprio instead fears he has been asked to relate an anecdote.
"Please don't make me give an anecdote," he protests. "I'm terrible at those. 'Tell me something that happened on the set.' My mind just goes —" (He makes a noise that sounds like an appliance on the fritz.)
"I remember everything," Winslet brags. "You do," DiCaprio confirms.
"You know I do," she adds for emphasis. "I remember (expletive) everything. So many Titanic stories I won't tell."
Once assured that only a movie title is required, he says, "I really love her in —" (he imitates a drum roll) "'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.' It's a different side of Kate in that movie. That element of you nobody really knows about."