Pleasantville (1998)

reviewed by
Mark R. Leeper


                       PLEASANTVILLE (United States)
         A review by Mark R. Leeper in bullet-list form
           from the Toronto Internation Film Festival

CAPSULE: Smug and self-congratulatory allegory introduces popular 1990s values to the world of the 1950s TV situation comedy and causes a revolution. Two 90s teens fall into the world of a 1950s situation comedy. Some major logic flaws. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

- Well-made (albeit wrongheaded) fantasy about two teenagers who are given a magic remote control unit and are pulled into the world of "Pleasantville," an amiable television situation comedy. They find themselves actually in Pleasantville with only the memory of episodes from the series to guide them. The world is in black and white. When the teens introduce sex and passion to a passionless world, objects and even people start transforming to Technicolor. White male power structure wants to stop the revolution of feelings. - Jeff Daniels as soda jerk who wants to be a painter. Theme bears some relation to his THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. - Our world of the 1990s is seen as being ridden with unemployment, global warming, and AIDS. Pleasantville seems to be a more pleasant place to live, but it is quickly found not to be. - Computer graphics to partially colorize scenes. Only those objects (especially people) who are fulfilled are in color. (I wonder what Roger Ebert makes of that?) - Don Knotts as magical TV repairman. - How can passionless people riot and remain passionless? - Film cannot decide if it is against 50s values or just 50s values as seen on TV. - Film pessimistic about AIDS but it is positive on the sexual revolution assuming that sex brings fulfillment. - There were some serious topic even on FATHER KNOWS BEST. This is not an accurate view of 50s TV. - How pleasant to see white males standing in the way of the sexual revolution rather than being the ones who are sex-crazed! But that is, of course, so that they are the villains even here. - If whole world is Pleasantville, where does pineapple come from? Where does the gas station get its gasoline? - Visual tribute to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD's courtroom scene. - First half of the film is considerably better than the second half which is full of all sorts of self-satisfied assumptions that 1990s have things working a lot better than the 1950s. While claiming that no decade has things right, the film provincially assumes that the 1990s has things a lot better than the 1950s.

                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        mleeper@lucent.com
                                        Copyright 1998 Mark R. Leeper

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