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Pleasantville, which is extremely well crafted and beautifully acted, must
also be categorized as one of the most irresponsible films of our time.
Gary Ross, who previously wrote Dave and Big, both of which were excellent
comedies as well as being timely moral statements, has now crossed the
Not in filmic terms, but in morality.
It's obvious that Ross is making a statement about the inherent freedom within everyone from Adam and Eve right down to people within the world of television. This is a beautiful statement, one that should be lauded. But it is also one that should be tempered with responsibility and reason.
Tobey Maguire plays the proverbial Adam, a boy that loves everything to do with the 'pleasant' world of forties and fifties television, until he and his sister, Reese Witherspoon who plays the also proverbial Eve, are zapped into the television world of Pleasantville.
In this world, everything is black and white, until Eve feeds the apple to an unsuspecting boy. As his desire is aroused, color appears in the world. Soon, all the kids are doing it...literally, at the ridiculously named 'Lover's Lane'. More and more color appears, and yet, strangely enough nobody gets pregnant.
The mother of Adam and Eve, played by Joan Allen, is Mrs. Cleaver to a 'T', until her daughter teaches her about sex. After having been taught, the mother proclaims that the father would never to THAT, to which the evil Eve says, "There are other ways to find pleasure." To the mother, this means more than just masturbating in the bathtub. She leaves her home and family without even speaking with her husband and the only after math that we see is that food is not on the table.
In the end, the normal people of Pleasantville must somehow come to terms with the 'coloreds'. But what of consequence? The only true evil in the film comes by way of the males who refuse to partake in the world of color. They burn books, rape women, and are generally Hitler-esque.
In Ross's world, color means free will. The freedom to do whatever you please. This is truly an amazing thing that human beings possess, but this gift we have is tempered by the fact that we have consequences for every action that we indulge in.
In Pleasantville, there are no consequences.
In the ancient allegory, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the 'black and white' Garden of Eden, they were sent into the world we know too well. A world of hardship, but certainly a beautiful world.
Nobody dies in Pleasantville before and after color appears, there are no accidents, no mishaps, with unprotected rampant sex comes no disease, no pregnancy, no remorse...no sense. With the pleasure, there is no pain.
Someone said, "How can we know the sweet without tasting the bitter?" Gary Ross will show you.
Pleasantville is like the allegory of Adam and Eve cast UP from the Garden of Eden straight to heaven... So why are we here at all?
A re-watch of PLEASANTVILLE from writer-director Gary Ross (THE HUNGER
GAMES 2012, 7/10) is as pleasant as it the title suggests, a really
novel cautionary tale coated with a profound satire milieu. It is a
golden idea to juxtapose monochrome with colourful graduation
concurring with the evolving storyline. A present-day (1990s) high
school siblings David (Maguire) and Jennifer (Witherspoon) have been
transported inside their TV, as Bud and Mary Sue, the children of
George and Betty Parker (H. Macy and Allen), living in a small black &
white town called Pleasantville, based on a sitcom of 1950s where all
its residents are also exclusively black and white and comport
themselves in a monotonous harmony with storybook unconsciousness of
their own feelings, books are blank, toilets are empty spaces,
basket-shooting accuracy is 100%, fire and rain are non-existent,
parents never hear about sex, the lovey-dovey Lovers' Lane is the place
where young couples go for holding hands.
In order to get back their life on track until the odd TV repairman (Knotts) is willing to transport them back to reality, David, who is a big fan of the show, proposes they should abide by their characters and act along with rest of the people, but Jennifer is a unchaste nonconformist, on their first night, she has her way with the basketball jock Skip (Walker), like the snake in the Eden, she usher sex in the town, and ignites the ripple effects with colour-transformations (from black & white to multicolour) of the unsophisticated denizens whoever experiences any degree of self-discovery and the objects as well. Betty rejects to be an archetype housewife and finds uninhibited romance with Bud's friend Bill (Daniels), whose untapped talent as a painter also be spontaneously triggered thereafter by her. Meanwhile, David (Bud) and Jennifer (Mary Sue) are also undergoing their own metamorphosis through the revolutionary shift, their own life- changing epiphanies will arrive too although from the mid-stream Jennifer is largely sidelined in the plot while David becomes a pioneering hero to defend his cause to unleash everyone's own feelings from the conservative party leads by mayor Big Bob (Walsh).
A great cast of veterans, Joan Allen is the MVP as she stuns the audiences with her elegant flair to bring true vitality to her role, she is the most intrepid person in the film, the ending with an equivocal ménage-à-trois scenario is a big thumb-up to the liberation of feminism. William H. Macy has less showy pieces to perform, but he effuses a drolly naivety all the way through, his final conversion is cliché in the script but he nails it with compelling sympathy. It is also a career-defining role for Reese Witherspoon, her Jennifer is the kind of rebellious kids with an open mind about sex and a hipster's selfishness, as in Alexander Payne's ELECTION (1999, 7/10) one year later. Tobey Maguire has been consistent outstanding in his earlier filmography, not as wide-eyed as he looks, in the films he is always arresting without giving away too much information about his true feelings, it is the real deal to be a star on the big-screen, as SPIDER- MAN trilogy (2002-2007) would prove, which earns him a deluge of money but also ruins his following career, or maybe acting is not the priority in his life now, how pitiful it is.
What is not so agreeable in the film? In some way, the script is too idiosyncratic to make the ends meet, one has to be a complete non-skeptic to buy all its castle-in-the-air premise, nevertheless it is a film has its distinct merits, to say the least is Randy Newman's hearty music score and Gary Ross' competence to single-handedly pin down its dystopia nucleus with sterling nostalgia lustre.
*** 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 today 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.
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'.
A really great movie. Not only a great fictional story, but non fiction as well. Pleasantville has appeared on my cable system several times in the past few weeks and I have watched it almost every time. I was struck by the similarities between events in this movie and what we are experiencing today. There are some people who are able to change and grow easily in this movie, as there are in our world today. And then there are those who yearn for a return to the bygone days, with their "traditional values" and interest in the status quo. I was struck by the resemblance between the Pleasantville chamber of commerce and how they discouraged any sort of thought, and the Tea Party supporters that we hear all the time talking about their wish to reinstate those same types of traditional values. At least in the movie, those who develop the ability to think and feel emerge the victors.
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. ***
I really liked this movie, not only is it pleasant it's original. The
plot is about a brother and a sister, David and Jennifer going into the
TV show literally, into one of those old sit-com where everything is
black and white and everyone has a perfect family. And the people are
living the same routine life while everything is black and white, but
David and Jennifer starts changing that. The movie has a deep meaning
about it, even on today's society and I enjoyed it from beginning to
end. It was like watching a fairy tale for adults, I honestly don't
know how anyone can dislike this film. Sure the second half isn't as
good as the first half, but this is still really worth checking out.
*** 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!
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.
Great movie, great concept (and not a rip-off of The Truman Show!) Smacks a wee bit of the racism in the South in the 50s and 60s and of Nazi-ism but doesn't dwell on the fact. Go see it: the best movie out in ages as most movies this fall have really really bit!
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