Pleasantville (1998)

reviewed by
John Carroll

I rented this movie with very high hopes. This movie got praise as one of the best films of 1998, and unfortunately, was not as good as I hoped, but was still very intriguing and thought provoking.

First of all, the casting for this film is great. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are the future of Hollywood. They play their roles as the Parker brother and sister perfectly. With a plot as unbelievable as this film, you need chemistry and honest acting from your cast. Tobey and Reese (Bud and Mary Sue Parker) play their roles perfectly and display their characters with honesty and believability.

William H. Macy, an actor I have grown to love over the past year, turns in another great performance as the TV dad who is torn over his wife, a "colored" person and his friends, the "non-colored" ones. He also displays believability and must display a certain lack of chemistry with his wife. He does this perfectly and yet again shows why he should be one of the top actors in Hollywood.

Joan Allen is equally great as Betty Parker, the ideal TV Mom. Her character is the most ambitious. She is very na´ve, and must display this well to make her character believable and she does just that. Her lack of chemistry with Macy, which the role calls for, and her developed chemistry with Jeff Daniels is terrific, and if Daniels would have been as stellar as the rest of the cast, then this film would even been even better.

As said before, Jeff Daniels gives a bad performance. His character displays the change going on throughout the town, yet he does not display it with enough conviction. His character is very confusing and he is not very believable. This film could have been elevated to a whole new level had Daniels been able to give a better performance.

The movie is very provocative. It challenges the issues of racism that existed in the past and that still exist today. I really was not expecting all of the elements they brought up, but they pulled them off with such flair that it was mind blowing. They demonstrate the racism issue without a hitch, but do it in a slow pace.

The only major flaw in the film besides the performance by Daniels is length. Some films are not meant to be that long. Pleasantville is one of those films. This film could have been so much better had they not moved so slowly to it. First, they are amazed by the implementation of color. Then they want to have it. Then they do not want to. Then the war ensues between the colored and non-colored. This is all strung out over two hours, which was way too long. Some movies need a lot of time. Saving Private Ryan was a little bit under three hours long and I thought it could have used more time. This film is only two hours long, and seems much longer. Length is everything in films. If you can nail down the perfect timing and pace, you can win half the battle. Pleasantville can move at a good pace at times, but it is not consistent enough.

Overall, Pleasantville is a very pleasant and provocative departure from the predictability of most films these days. I went in expecting a light-hearted film about change. I left learning an important lesson about racism and the way things change. Luckily, Pleasantville teaches this lesson in such a way to make it appeal to all audiences. Only if it could have done in a shorter amount of time.

Rating: 3 Stars Out of 4 Stars.

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