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"Pleasantville" begins with two teenagers getting zapped into a TV show
by a remote control. That kind of fantasy premise rarely plays out as
something so good. What follows is an intelligent, funny and
introspective examination of today's interpretation of 1950s sitcoms.
Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) and David (Tobey Maguire) are 90s teens, that are real and funny at the same time. She's a self-absorbed party girl; he's a nerdy home-body. He's ready to settle into a "Pleasantville" marathon - a black and white TV sitcom, but as laid out in the premise, they instead find themselves playing the brother and sister in the show.
The film follows how their modern ways affect the characters in the show. Some characters go through a sexual awakening, others more of a cultural awakening, but they each mature and advance in their own way. Even David and Jennifer find that these TV sitcom characters have something to teach them. The film is just so smart and funny that it doesn't come across as melodramatic, and the lessons on society aren't in your face.
"Pleasantville" is beautifully shot and well written, and is far from the teen fantasy film that it sometimes gets advertised as. Highly recommended.
Pleasantville is one of the most original movies I've ever seen. It's entertaining from beginning to end and charms the life out of you. The script....I don't know where to begin with the script. It's so imaginative and heart-warming; it's just wonderful. Its containment of sexual curiosity and racial discrimination is absolutely excellent. They are two of the biggest themes here and they are done beautifully. The script is just magical. The visuals are stunning to say the least, the evolvement from color to black and white is masterful. The acting is terrific. MaGuire, Witherspoon, and Allen in particular deliver great performances. Overall, you must witness this film and everyone should be inspired by the amount of creativity piled here; 10.
Pleasantville deals with memory, and how we choose to remember the "good old days". When breakfasts were plentiful, and it never rained and dinner was at five and there was no such thing as sex and everyone obeyed their parents and got good grades and everything was just super. Well, transport two modern day teens into a 50's sitcom and watch them wreak havoc on this perfect little world from the past that we've created. I think everyone will agree, that is what this movie is about. Two teens trapped in a fictional, black-and-white world, where everything is perfect, and bringing with them unwanted, but ultimately, extremely necessary change. I believe that I have given a glorified description of this allegory, just as the director claims that we have a glorified view of the past. It seems so perfect, yet underneath, it's so extremely flawed. I do not see an overall message to this movie. If this was a paper, and I was a teacher grading it, I would write in bold red ink across the top, WHAT'S THE THESIS? It seems to be going in so many directions, and ends up being nothing more than melodramatic sap. At first the director seems to be saying that we view the past as perfect, but that's just our imperfect memory at work. But what's the deal with there being no such thing as rain, and never any fires? Well, reviewers will claim, this is not about real life, it's about characters on a television show. Wait a minute? I thought this was about us having a false perception of the past? 50's sitcoms were made in the 50's. False memory had nothing to do with it. It was about entertaining. Yes, I understand this suggests that the movie is about fiction vs. reality. However, if that is so, then it's not about change, it's about facing up to the truth that was always there. All of the elements seem to contradict each other. I'm so confused. I'm trying to balance all these things that are offered in the movie that just won't connect because they are randomly flying at me from from all over the place. We need color, nothing is just black-and-white. Ok, but I don't believe looking to the past, and realizing it wasn't perfect, is going to help us be more well-rounded people. It serves as nothing other than to tell us we're wrong, "the good old days" were not perfect. How does that affect the now? If it is about accepting that it is good that nothing is perfect in today's world, then that contradicts the idea that the past was not perfect. What is the director trying to say? The film does not know what it wants to be, is my final analysis. Is it about change? Acceptance of color, and rejecting black and white? Admitting that the past was not as perfect as we like to think? I don't know and I don't care. It gives no insight into the human condition, as far as I'm concerned, and that's all I care about in movies and literature. A 3/10. Just read The Giver or Harrison Bergeron. By the way, I heard that they were going to make The Giver into a movie, but they couldn't because Pleasantville stole it's thunder. No doubt it needed it to go along with that dramatic rain scene.
You know, I much preferred the b&w, 1950s town of Pleasantville before
the characters of Jennifer and David arrived in it and literally
corrupted it with the colors of carnal knowledge.
(Yep. That's right! - Corrupted it!)
It was especially the Jennifer "air-head" character who literally slutified Pleasantville in no time flat. She even educated her TV-Mother on how to please oneself through the dexterity of finger masturbation.
I thought that as a movie Pleasantville got its equation for fulfillment all wrong. By using the screwy metaphor of color as its yardstick to measure fulfillment, I was told, plain and simple, that a black and white world equaled sterility, close-mindedness and gross naivety. While, on the other hand, a Technicolor world meant only beauty, life-lovingness, and rich rewards.
This film seemed to have absolutely no understanding or appreciation for the targeted era in US culture that it so smugly attempted to belittle and ridicule.
Pleasantville's message was neither deep nor meaningful. All that this picture seemed to be was just another way for its producers to show off their expertise solely in terms of its CG imagery.
Pleasantville's story repeatedly told me that one must drop (like - Pronto!) all sexual inhibitions in order to be totally fulfilled in this life. And, yet, it made no mention that it's due to a lack of common sense and rampant, unprotected sex that this world is rife with STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
I found it really hard to believe that the characters living in Pleasantville (before the colors of sex arrived) were so bloody clueless that they didn't know that a whole, wide world existed out there beyond the idealistic borders of their quaint, little town.
Like, didn't these innocent-ones ever watch movies and TV? And, didn't they actually see in color?
And, finally - It really baffled me that the TV Repairman (whose motives were decidedly dubious) had become absolutely outraged when he found out what dear-Jennifer and her darling bro, David, had done to the innocence of Pleasantville - Especially since it was he who had zapped them there in the first place.
Like, what the hell did he expect to happen by introducing these 2 casualties of the post-sexual revolution into this unspoiled environment?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unfairly eclipsed by the excellent The Truman Show, and easily dismissed as a facile "sucked into the TV" comedy, Pleasantville is truly an under-appreciated classic.
Strong performances and writing set it apart from films like the later Stay Tuned, with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon displaying acting capabilities that transcend their youth. The standout in this excellent ensemble has to be Joan Allen, whose remarkably studied performance is a masterclass in character development, as her Betty slowly steps free of repression and blossoms into a woman of sensuous, simple beauty and independence. Jeff Daniels is charming too as Bill, the bow-tied soda store owner who discovers passions within. Coming to terms with one's inner passion isn't an easy process, we discover, as the town breaks apart into paranoia and fear, dangerously teetering on the brink of a kind of apartheid until even the staunchest black-and-white citizen realises that change is inevitable and that the unPleasant waits within. It is precisely this thread of tension that elevates Pleasantville over the level of easy comedy, though there are a good number of affectionate laughs here.
The beauty of Pleasantville is the way in which the film so easily and comfortably finds its stride and, like Groundhog Day, uses every last scrap of its unapologetically high concept to the maximum. The real coup de cinema is that the modern-day kids don't learn old-fashioned values as much as the citizens of Pleasantville learn from David and Jennifer how wonderful sexual and cultural freedom can be. This isn't just a fish-out-of-water comedy - the arrival of the kids disturbs the very fundament of Pleasantville. The way in which the seemingly happy yet horribly repressed town is slowly exposed to the freedoms of modern life is thrilling to watch - symbolised with such great clarity initially by the use of colour and other "unPleasant" things like lightning, rain and the joyous eruption of a tree into orange and yellow flames upon Betty's first orgasm. Another great achievement here is that the audience really gets a sense of how powerfully such changes impact upon the community - the first glimpse of a red rose is framed with such intensity that we ourselves are disturbed - uncertain as to whether we should be thrilled or frightened.
I like this film. It's different. It invites the viewer to think about,
and ponder, concepts like morality and values, stereotypes, fear, and social
change. Each person will come away with his or her own interpretation of
the film's "meaning". And this "meaning" will be consistent, no doubt, with
the viewer's own life experiences, values, and belief system.
I consider "Pleasantville" to be a quasi-sci-fi film, one that I think Aldous Huxley and Rod Serling would both approve of.
The film does seem to get bogged down in the middle. It overplays the sex angle. And I could wish for more 1950's rock and roll music. But the acting is fine, especially the performance of Joan Allen. And the lighting is very well done.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that a film made in the last ten years could be as original, as cerebral, and as under-stated as "Pleasantville".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read a review of this movie and they trashed it because they said
that it cheapened sex. As such, I decided not to watch it. At first I
thought that it was in the same vein as the Truman Show, but it is far
from it. Where the Truman Show had some deep, intricate themes
regarding control, Pleasantville is about enjoying life and questions
the ideas of morality.
The movie is about a fifties television show where everything is perfect. A boy loves the show while his sister scorns it. They are completely opposite in personality, she being a slut while he being a nerd. They then get drawn into the show, and the boy is ecstatic while she is angered, especially since she misses out on a date with Mr Studley from her school (who would want to date a donkey Mr Studley anyway - they sound so try-hard).
By the end of the movie, the boy has shed his shell and comes to see that a perfect world is not always a happy world while she discovers that there is much more to the world than sex. The movie depicts these changes in characters by giving them colours (as the TV Show is black and white). As people come to find joy in life, they come to take on colours. The movie emphasises that this joy is not simply sexual gratification, as the sister has a lot of sex, yet does not become coloured until she discovers the wonder of literature.
One wonders if this movie is trying to advocate the 90's over the fifties, but I don't think so. What I think this movie is trying to draw out is that which we find joyful. We might be happy doing something, but it might not be truly joyful, especially since we won't want to do it because of fear of persecution. This is emphasised at the end as those who are still black and white begin to persecute those who are coloured.
When I saw this movie, I wasn't paying that much attention, but what I did see was that it was a much better movie that I expected, and will have to watch it again more closely.
This movie I haven't seen in years & yet I often think about it. It was one of those films you were sad to see end. Beyond just the excellent & original story is all of the brilliant performances by all. In a cast that was excellent all around including Tobey McGuire & Reese Witherspoon before either of them were big stars I have to give special props to Jeff Daniels & Joan Allen. I have yet to meet anyone that doesn't think this is an extremely good film. The way all of the characters interact is what makes this such a special film. I honestly don't know how this didn't make at least twice as much money as it did, because it's that original. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor & watch it & I dare you not to be impressed. I would especially recommend this to fans of 1950's & 60's shows such as "The Andy Griffith Show" & "The Dick Van Dyke show. Have fun & be prepared to be very impressed w/the originality & the tremendous performances by the huge & fabulous cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just rented Pleasantville and was very moved by it. If you're wondering
whether to see it, please do. It's somewhat similar in feel to The Truman
Show - a warm comedy that conveys social criticism. That's why I just
them both for the first time and watched them back to back - and much
preferred Pleasantville as more profound, funnier, and having more original
However, at times Pleasantville is a little odd. First, it may well rub people the wrong way (it did me) that indiscriminate nightly recreational sex by teenagers is seen as causing them to flower into real people. Thus, a teenager contracting a venereal disease becomes the amusing equivalent to lipstick found on someone's collar. Well, it isn't. It's bothersome that this is seen as meaning the teenagers have somehow acquired "real life" and flowered.
Similarly, the infidelity of the perfect suburban wife is seen as completely wonderful - the horrific impact on the husband shown merely comically because dinner isn't ready.
Somehow, the town's negative reaction to a nude painting of the wife by her lover on the windows of the local hangout is seen as perverse. The writer/director sees the painting as just a wonderful expression of a long repressed artistic sensibility. Hmmm - imagine YOUR mother painted naked on the storefront window! You wouldn't want it to remain there!
Similarly, character after character responds enviously when presented with the idea that there is a more "dangerous" world out there. Well, I wish there were less danger in the world - less likelihood of disease, of murder, of ruinous bankruptcies of people's hopes, of litigation that drives people under, of unemployment, of infidelity. These are terrible things - they ruin and end lives. That doesn't mean I want a controlled environment - but only that it is hard to imagine anyone wishing for life to be MORE dangerous.
Moreover, much of the social criticism is blunted by the fact that many of the oddities the characters find about their situation are not because they are in the 1950s, but because they are in the midst of a television show rather than real life. Thus, ALL books have blank pages, there is no known place outside that town, all basketballs swish through the hoops, everyone's routine is so rigid that the soda fountain worker is unable to cope when a worker fils to show up in time to fold the napkins while he begins cooking.
The question thus becomes whether the director is satirizing merely television shows. But if it is merely a satire of old television programs, it is strange. On Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best or Donna Reed or My Three Sons, the characters OFTEN failed - and the inevitable moral lesson about trying again or keeping one's chin up was the point of the show.
If instead, it is social commentary about conformity and repression (as the movie's point appears more to be), then the oddities of being inside a television program unfortunately vitiate the point of the movie.
I also have a problem with a movie that confuses expression with libertine behavior. It's one thing to be free to draw any picture - it's another for teenagers to contract venereal diseases through indiscriminate sex. They AREN'T the same things, and making it appear that those who are confused when their wives have simply abandoned them and their children without even a note, with those who are violent book burners or utterly rigid conformists, is really hitting too broadly.
All that said, the movie was terribly moving in showing those in a conformist society finding themselves bloom, and the confusion and shock and anger that this causes among others. It's sweet and funny, and I particularly liked how well drawn the two leads were - quite distinct people who react very differently to the situation.
It's interesting that Toby McGuire begins by trying his utmost not to upset the existing conformist social order (his sister doesn't care at all), but ends completely believably as the revolutionary subverter of that order. The movie is well worth seeing even if you think the director insists on throwing out the morality of fidelity along with the bathwater of mindless rigid conformity.
If memory serves me correctly, the first time I was about to see
Pleasantville I had it fixed in my mind that I would see a fantasy comedy
romp that was nothing more than what happened to two teenagers caught in a
nineteen fifties black and white television program. The idea was
intriguing enough that I thought the possibilities for comedy and slapstick
were endless. If Pleasantville had been one of those comedy capers churned
out by the Disney Studios, I'm sure that is the kind of film I would have
seen. Thanks to direction and writing by Gary Ross, what I got instead was
not only film magic of the highest order, but a film with so much more to
say, and a film that affected me in ways I never thought possible.
Pleasantville is easily one of the most gratifying film experiences I was
privileged to enjoy in the 1990's.
Much of the early parts of Pleasantville are as I suspected they would be. When brother and sister David(Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer(Reese Witherspoon) are sucked into an old black and white sitcom named Pleasantville, courtesy of a TV repairman(Don Knotts), early hilarity ensues as they cope with their situation. It seems in Pleasantville, everything always has been and always will be "Pleasant". The people of Pleasantville existence remains constant from day to day, never changing, never experiencing sadness, hurt, or anger. It is a land of Stepford people in a sense, not because the citizens of Pleasantville are robotic, but because they only know the pleasures and joy of the world in which they live. At first, Bud implores his sister to go along with the program and not to upset the apple cart. He tells her it could wreck the whole universe of Pleasantville and ruin any chance of them returning to the real world they left behind. An easy task for the nerdish David(now Bud), who has dealt with the trials and tribulations of the real world by losing himself in the fantasy of the reruns of Pleasantville. Alas, Jennifer(now Mary Sue), is just the opposite. In the real world, she is a sluttish boy crazy, cigarette smoking teenager, and the world of Pleasantville is as foreign to her as the clothes she is now forced to wear. Obviously her resolve to go along with David doesn't last very long. It is then that, slowly Pleasantville changes from a farce, into a meaningful film experience.
As David and Jennifer interact with the people of Pleasantville, the world around them slowly begins to change. As their classmates and the townspeople learn and experiences things they never dream of, the things around them change from the drabness of black and white to color. It can be something as small and subtle as a rose blossom or as they find new meaningful changes in their lives some of the inhabitants themselves change from black and white to color. It is not long before the town is divided into two factions: those that have experienced the joys of discovering there is more to life than the every day blandness of living in Pleasantville, and those that wish for Pleasantville to stay exactly as it always has been, never changing, never evolving, forever to remain in the suspended animation of a 50's TV sitcom idea.
There are so many great performances so many well written scenes, so much wonderful cinematography as John Lindley expertly blends together scenes of color and black and white, aided by the most purposeful use of digital effects ever seen in a film. I could list each acting performance individually be it Maguire or Witherspoon, William H. Macy, or Joan Allan, or Jeff Daniels, but they are all exceptional and there is not enough superlatives to do so. Add to this a beautifully rendered score by Randy Newman, and you have film perfection.
I have viewed Pleasantville a number of times. With each viewing it holds more fascination for me as I discover little gems one will miss from just having seen it once. It is one of those films I never tire of watching and for me to run down a list of the wonderful moments encapsulated withing Pleasantville would do nothing more but to spoil those discoveries for yourself. Much has been written about what Gary Ross may or may not have been trying to say with his film. For me, Pleasantville says that life is ever changing. As much as we would like for things always to remain constant, change cannot and will not be held back, nor should it be feared. More importantly, especially in the times in which we live now, where people are quickly denigrated for opinions and thoughts beyond that of the masses, one should be able to express new ideas and different opinions without fear, without malice, and without contempt.
My Grade: A+
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