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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's difficult to find movies with a completely novel concept one
hasn't seen before, so in that sense, "Pleasantville" is one of the
more original films you're likely to come across. Occasionally other
pictures rely on the black and white/color dichotomy, but this one does
so to present an interesting idea. When a person steps outside of their
normal comfort zone in the picture, they transform from black and white
into color. The concept is then turned on it's head when the majority
(the b&w) start to turn on those who have experienced something new
(the coloreds). I don't know if that was supposed to be an overt
comment on racism or not, but I got that impression, similar to the way
the issue of race was handled in the Loki episode of 'Star Trek' back
in the 'real' Sixties.
It was also pretty cool to see one of the Sixties' most memorable character actors, Don Knotts, in the role of the TV repairman. I'm glad they had his personality toned down as opposed to the brainless deputy Barney Fife he portrayed on the "Andy Griffith Show". What a neat way to make the transition from the 1998 (then) present to the decades earlier past.
Reading some of the other reviews posted on this board, it's kind of comical to me to see how young present day viewers interpret a past they hadn't lived through and which they can't fully understand. Entertainment media in all forms has undergone a gradual transition over time and what once were taboo subjects for TV like the word 'pregnant', are almost unimaginable with the way anything goes nowadays. I'm reminded of my own son when he was only about eight years old asking me if when I was a kid, did everything exist in only black and white.
*** 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.
I saw this film on a Saturday afternoon and it really packed a wallop. As someone who was brought up on "Leave It to Beaver," "Father Knows Best," "Ozzie and Harriet," etc., etc. I was ready to have any image of those series deflated very quickly. The images (in chilling black and white) of the perfect small town with perfect families and perfect people brought back memories of the above shows (What DID Ozzie do for a living?!) and a few others. Who didn't want parents or friends (or a life) like the ones in the movie?! The cast (among them a pre-Spiderman Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Marley Shelton, J. T. Walsh in his last role as the town leader, etc.) was one of the best ensembles ever assembled. Everybody had their big moment on screen. Add to this echoes of "To Kill A Mockingbird," "The Wizard of Oz," as well as touches of the above noted TV series and one has a great movie experience. This one had me thinking for days afterwards and it'll have you thinking too.
I think that this movie had a great premise - 90's kids get sucked into 50's TV universe, they disrupt the social order with individuality, imagination, and self-determination. However, this movie seemed like once the premise was created, played out excellently in the first half of the movie, it lost direction. There was a great setup, but the creators didn't know where to take it. They wanted to include a message, then let the message become so central, and so obvious and overdone, that it snuffed out the romp that the movie started with. I'm not against having a message in this movie - I think it was important and relevant; however the ending was so maudlin and hard to swallow that I left the theater feeling overworked.
This movie isn't as much a finished story as it is a wonderous collage of funny little things. Two kids from the MTV generation getting stuck in the unbearably pleasant world of a 50s television show is a truly brilliant concept, but it's the execution that's the real winner. I particularly loved the scenes that mixed B&W and color, not only because of the technical skills involved but mainly for what they represented. The intruders slowly cause a revolution among the villagers, a plot element that is absolutely beautifully done. Nothing burns in Pleasantville, there are no toilets, nobody knows what "sex" means, it's all just very witty. In the end few things are answered, but by then you just won't have the energy to be mad at the movie. Quite a good film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play brother and sister who are
high school students in the present day (though they were 23 and 22
when they made the film). While you have no idea WHY, Don Knotts (yes,
Don Knotts!) plays a magical TV repairman who gives them a bizarre
looking remote that somehow transports them into a TV show that Tobey
loves--"Pleasantville". They have no idea why this occurred or if it
will ever end or if Knotts is god, but oddly neither questions this new
world that is literally in black & white like an old episode of "Father
Knows Best". However, unwittingly, their presence with their modern
sensibilities and notions causes this seemingly idyllic world to start
to slowly come apart at the seems. Notions such as freedom to choose,
sex and individuality are missing in this world--and the two
interlopers bring this to the plastic world of Pleasantville.
By the way, Pleasantville is odd in many ways. First, all roads in town lead right back to town and no one has ever left the town or knows anything about the world outside. Second, books are blank inside and the people have no idea about what they contain. Third, when there is a fire, the fire department actually has no idea WHAT a fire is--they are only used to things you might see in the TV world--such as rescuing cats stuck in trees. In fact, how Tobey is able to finally convince the firemen to come to his house when there is an actual fire is pretty funny. There's a lot more that is strange about the town and it gets stranger when the influence of the two outsiders slowly causes actual colors to begin appearing in the monochrome world.
The film is a strange surreal sort of thing that is truly unique. Using colorization techniques, they are able to achieve amazing results that seem to jump off the screen. It's all a metaphor about how the idyllic life of 50s TV was actually quite stilted and repressive, though Maquire and Witherspoon's life in the real world isn't exactly great either--their parents are divorced and Witherspoon is, to put it nicely, a bit shallow and slutty. A happy medium would sure be nice--combining the best of both worlds--and I think this is a valid interpretation of the film's intent. Where exactly it all goes and the unexpected consequences are something you'll just have to learn about yourself, so watch the film.
Overall, a rather interesting and innovative film. It was nominated for three Oscars and deserved kudos in these departments--for sets, costume design and music. While I wouldn't put it in the category of must-see, it is interesting and worth seeing--even if the ending is a bit too drawn out in some ways. The only real misgiving I have is the way SOME might see the film and come to the conclusions that the 1950s were all bad and repressive--a rather oversimplification of the era, to say the least. This era, like all in our history, had its good and bad points and I worry that such a revisionist view of our past will be believed by young people seeing this movie--especially since films such as this are the only way most teens get their history. I know, as I've taught US and World History--kids are THAT gullible...really. I can't really blame the folks from "Pleasantville" for this lack of awareness in teens, but it did concern me as I watched the film.
By the way, one thing I liked about the film was the courtroom scene and William Macy's acting. While he said very, very little, his face showed so much expression--now THAT'S acting!
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