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*** 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+
I can already see the entreaties to the contrary. "We were parodying 1950's
sitcoms, not the 1950's." Well, don't you believe it. Despite being an
awful film, "Pleasantville," does provide us with interesting generational
viewpoints. Notice who gets shelled in this film, the '50's and the '90's.
Conveniently sandwiched between these two highlighted decades is the real
culprit. Growing up in the '60's, being educated in the '70's, and working
in the '80's, the hippy generation has once again stuck it to their forbears
and their offspring.
As the story goes, the people of the 1950's were so square they couldn't see color because they lacked sexual knowledge and experience. Moreover, people of the '90's lost the vigor of color because the sexual revolution had long ended with just assembly line sex remaining. If a rational individual removes the one linchpin of this logic (e.g. sex), the whole proof crashes down upon itself. All I'm convinced of, is that the hippies, were, are, and continue to be consumed by the issue of sex, and anyone not so inclined is square. This movie rates two out of ten.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The potential was there--the actors were great (esp Macguire as nerd
and a young, fat Reese Witherspoon and the puppyish Daniels), the 50s
atmosphere seemed to set everything up for nostalgia and irony, and the
premise of 90s children bringing color and passion in a 50s television
show seemed like a great story. Unfortunately, the heavyhanded message
detracted from the experience. The worst signs were the over-dramatic
courtroom monologue adding nothing particularly original ("what's
different is inside us"), the extremely heavy racial and religious
allegory (girlfriend offering an apple? things that are off-limits to
"colored" people? mccarthy-era fahrenheit 451-style book burning??),
the overplayed color metaphor (the first few times were great, having
it last to the end of the story dragged). It begins to seem a bit dumb
and its message is ridiculously left-leaning. A housewife, and some high school kids, find passion after sex (and masturbation, after which a tree goes up in the obvious flames), with no regard to teenage pregnancy, stds, etc. A bored schoolgirl finds passion after reading D. H. Lawrence. Leaving one's husband and starting extramarital affairs is given a thumbs up (and never resolved afterward.) Someone paints a housewife nude on a wall and the attack on it is made out to be some kind of anti-art, anti-passion mccarthyism crusade. In the end, the hero exhorts the audience to find their true feelings and passions, including anger. The town turns colorful. Boring, and biased, and an obvious, heavyhanded story.
I used to watch this film as a kid almost regularly. Undoubtedly I was
unconsciously infatuated with the vibrant colors, playing against the
cold and grainy 'black and white' backdrop. I watched it again
recently, however, and it seems apparent to me that this movie has much
more to offer me as an adult than the special-effects gimmick.
The story is strange but somehow not all too original. A brother and sister who are polar opposites get sucked into their television set one evening just as a "Pleasantville" marathon is set to start. The show, per its' name, is a mega-sappy boomer-era sitcom comparable to the likes of 'Leave it to Beaver', and this is the world they find themselves stuck in. It soon becomes evident that if the pair neglect to play along with every little nuance of the "Pleasantville" episodes, it's entire universe would cease making sense. Desperate to keep the innocent folks of Pleasantville intact, David struggles to keep everything routine and orderly like the episodes he's memorized, but Jennifer, known as the school slut back in reality, has other plans.
The running time for Pleasantville stretches just over 120 minutes, and while it feels about as long as it is, it is time well spent. The characters are written with remarkable emotional maturity, even for the surreal P-ville residents, some of which are borderline childish in their ignorance ("WHERE'S MY DINNER?!"), but even such a disposition is portrayed with honest human emotion and a belief in goodness underneath it all. The director commands a subtlety from his actors, and manages to succeed in having them play their sappy archetypes and be themselves at the same time, coming across with a humble ignorance that offers a rich duality. For while they are merely people trying to be people on the inside, the impostors amongst them are people trying to be Pleasants.
The colors. Oh, the colors! The use of color is definitely worth mentioning, not just because the film revolves around it. The director knew that if he were to perform a visual effect like this, it would have to be spectacular, quite literally. A burning tree glowing against a pale picket fence, pink cherry blossoms in a gray lovers lane, and (to me) most memorably a black and white greaser runs a vibrant-colored comb through his black and white hair. The effects are done with technical proficiency to the effect of beauty. But the colors are loud in multiple ways because they say so much. They spring up in any of the town residents when something happens, and just what that is could be discussed amongst the audience. On the surface, the colors change when a person changes; a routine, a feeling, a way of thinking. Underneath, a passionate moviegoer can look inside these characters, find the humanity, and pick out how they feel like a familiar outfit. It is in these moments of relation that we connect most with the Pleasants, and it is also when they receive their new colors. I think it was these kinds of moments that inspired the color in Pleasantville, the moments of purity. Another interesting perspective I had of the concept was as a kind of reflection of American culture, ranging from the 1950s generation gap to the later civil-rights movement (check out the "No Coloreds" sign in a store window).
I won't try to nutshell the movie, since the characters endure a whirlwind of change and turmoil. Suffice it to say that it's full, rich, sensitive, and funny. It manages to say a lot and it looks damn good doing it. This one stood out on its' own, even within a period of cinematic revival and new ideas spawned by special effects (but not TOO MUCH fx). Yet one more reason why I miss the 90s'.
"Pleasantville" as about a pair of modern teenagers who are transported
into a black-and-white 50s TV show. That scenario has disaster
potential of FEMA proportions, so when the filmmakers avoided making a
post-modern film version of "Gilligan's Island" starring Will Ferrell
is half the battle. And director Gary Ross got just about everything
else about "Pleasantville" half-right, which makes for a halfway decent
viewing experience, nowhere near as bad as it could be, but not as good
The look of the scenes in the sitcom small-town is half-right -- the costumes, hairstyles and set decorations are perfect, but the pretty black-and-white cinematography and odd camera angles are more reminiscent of an art movie by Scorcese or Woody Allen than grainy single-set 50s TV. The casting is half-right. Don Knotts as the mysterious TV repairman who transforms people into sitcom characters? Perfect. Tobey Maguire as the nerdy, unpopular teen obsessed with an old family sitcom? Way too easy. Looking at Tobey Maguire back in 1998, you assumed he was a geek, so he coasts on his charisma deficit and doesn't bother creating much of a character. Reese Witherspoon as the slutty girl who introduces sexual liberation into the staid 1950s? Brilliant. This was before anyone knew how good she was, and her depth and intelligence shine through this gimmicky role -- her sense of mischief in her early sitcom scene is hilarious, her transformation into a more thoughtful young woman is quite moving. Jeff Daniels as the soda jerk with artistic aspirations? Confused. Is his character stupid or repressed? Daniels never figures it out so he plays it both ways and winds up just kind of stiff and awkward. Finally, the politics of "Pleasantville" are halfway thought-provoking. A few scenes of book burning and threatened gang rape are enough to make you wonder if "Pleasantville" is about the sentimental impulse at the heart of fascism. But that's kind of intense for an American movie so it almost literally backs away from that idea in a bizarre edit and becomes a sentimental movie about self-acceptance and self-actualization. Which is fine, just not incredibly distinctive. Good but not great.
The story begins in the 1990s focusing on a pair of bickering siblings. Davidan intelligent but socially inept teenagerand his twin sister Jenniferpretty, promiscuous, and desperate to be popularare at odds with one another until they abruptly find themselves trapped inside Pleasantville, a 1950s black-and-white sitcom where tradition, naiveté, and old-fashioned values run the idyllic little town like clockwork. Conflict arises when the duo's contemporary social norms begin to influence the town inhabitants, all of whom begin to embrace their unexplored potential and newfound autonomy. Wonderful fantasy from director Gary Ross has some familiar themes but a highly original concept, splendid visual effects that create a sense of awe and wonder, and an abundance of moving moments balanced by plenty of funny ones as well. It goes on too long, but benefits from superb casting all around with each actor playing their part to perfection. ***
A magical TV remote transports a brother and sister from the 1990s to a sitcom town in the 1950s, corrupting the innocent residents of the town. The premise is interesting, leading to some amusing moments initially, but eventually the execution leaves something to be desired. The story meanders around rather aimlessly before turning heavy-handed with social commentary and moralizing. The film is rather obvious in making its simplistic points, using black and white cinematography to represent repression and socialism while using color as a metaphor for tolerance and liberalism. It has a good cast, especially Maguire, Allen, and Daniels, but it runs out of steam.
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