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Three movies of the late '90s -The Truman Show, EdTv and Pleasantville-
specifically examined how television made an impact on our world, our
culture and our values. They both showed larger than life happenings
and captured our minds with their perspectives. In EdTv there was a
humble video store clerk guy having his life filmed for a reality show,
which was happening in present time. Though in Truman Show very
futurist and fantastically, Truman Burbank was not even aware that his
life is being filmed, offering the viewer the vision of life from God's
perspective. Distinctively here in Pleasantville, there is a journey
which starts with materializing a TV-series into life and ends up with
materializing the life into this TV-series.
The cheerful 1950s' TV sit-com Pleasantville is revived in the '90s on cable. A homebody teen, David Wagner, escapes from the daily rush of the real unpleasant world by watching this show. He doesn't even miss the reruns, memorizes the scripts and speaks them out before the actors in the show say their part. One day after school, he and his sister Jennifer can't agree on the right TV channel to watch. Then they fight over the remote control and it breaks. The new remote, which will zap them inside Pleasantville, given them by a strange TV-repairman.
When they entered Pleasantville, they become the part of the show and turn to black-and-white as the TV show displays. David and Jennifer take up residence as the son and the daughter of the sit-com family. Soon, they realize that there the life is always pleasant; the temperature is always lukewarm and the seasons are always spring with no rain no snow no hot no cold weather, books have no words, roads end where they start, nothing burns and matches are useless, married couples sleep in twin beds, sex does not exist, nobody gets sick, nobody gets hurt and nobody ever questions this hassle-free life. David fits right in as he always dreamt to be, while her sister persists on him to try to figure out what should they do to escape from there. Though she changes her mind when he gets a boyfriend from school. Her attempts of putting her lifestyle on effect causes Pleasantville gets colors. Thus wonderful and frightening changes start to take place.
Pleasantville is a truly original film that soars with dynamism and aesthetic. From a social and deeply political perspective; it has deep meaning and relevance in today's society. Consequently, it should serve as a reminder for most that the world is made up of how its residents think and act. "You can't stop something that's inside you." says David, and that could be summation of all that Pleasantville stands for.
Pleasantville should be nominated for Best Director and Best Cinematography, and perhaps Best Supporting Actor for William H. Macy. Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels and Tobey Maguire are also excellent, and the idea is brilliant. In other words, this film is one of the best of the year. It is fun for the eyes and filled with wonderful allusions to great books and other films, not to mention some similar events in our country's past. If you will let yourself go from reality and put a little thought into it, you will realize the sheer genius behind this film. The messages were plenty and appropriate, and while it is extremely fun to watch, it still is able to evoke deeper emotions. Fantastic, and my vote for second best film of the year behind Saving Private Ryan.
i wish i had the ability to put into a 1000 words what this movie impressed
upon me. sadly enough, i am a verbose person, inclined to write and write
and write, following a train of thought that never ends.
however, i shall certainly give it a try, without botching it up. after
having viewed this movie, i sat a while in my chair, watching the end
credits play and listening to the music as it played along. not until the
tape rewinded did i fully realise that i had watched a really good movie
again, one that spoke on more levels than the simple obvious ones.
if i were to speak of one of the main things in this movie that are so incredibly important, it's the fact that it speaks about people and society, and the patterns inherent in them. in the beginning, you see reese witherspoon in a normal 90's class situation, following what is a 'normal' situation in that environment. then she is dropped into pleasantville, and what happens? she loses all reference points towards a life that seems right to her; she misses her pattern in life. the first thing that happens is she tries to enforce it again, resulting in the start of the major happenings of the movie, and somewhere along the line, softly swerves away from it and finds another pattern. once she reads a book, and stays put reading in it while she could have gone out to 'do it', you know things have changed.
william c. macy shows the same thing when he gets home, and his wife isn't there to greet him, and i could go on for ages to point to this, but i'd be overstepping my boundaries of these 1000 words, and definitely spoil someone elses movie experience. fact is, almost every single storyline in this movie is about change, change brought about because someone is stuck in a pattern and feels something is wrong, or through the self discovery that is inherent in every single one of us. not only that, it also shows how fear of breaking established patterns can bring out the worst, or get the upheaval that the major starts with his 'concerned citizens'. but even beyond all this, all the explanations and thought provoking issues that it brings up, if alone for the beauty of it and for the precious score that is attached, one should at least consider seeing it. i am personally a very jaded person concerning movies, having seen more than probably even a professional movie reviewer has seen taking my age as his career.
even with that in mind, i thank my lucky stars for picking this up on a whim and getting a look at something that has taken me in more than most of the movies this year. several of the scenes are priceless, and as someone before commented, the drive through a black and white scenery with coloured blossom weaving through the soft winds will leave you breathless.
in short, if you feel like watching a wonderful movie, catch this one and be impressed; try to follow the patterns every character exhibits and think about what the colour means in that sense, how it brings life back, how change is life.
PLEASANTVILLE had to be one of the biggest surprises I've ever had at the movies. This superbly mounted and completely winning fantasy starred Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as a contemporary teenage brother and sister who are magically transported into a black and white television show called "Pleasantville", a show similar to "Leave it to Beaver" or "I Love Lucy", where everyone in the town knows each other, where the fire department only saves cats from trees and never put out fires and where there are no pages in the books or toilets in the bathrooms. Maguire's character is a "Pleasantville" trivia expert so he knows everyone there and everything that's going to happen but sis Witherspoon is a stranger in a strange land whose introduction of 1990's sensibilities to the citizens of this town brings about extraordinary changes. The film is beautifully made with a very smart screenplay and superb performances, the best of which is by Joan Allen, who is luminous as Betty, the mother in the sitcom who is shocked at first but learns to accept the 1990's coming to Pleasantville. Yes, it may borrow from other movies, but there is a freshness and originality to this movie that is most engaging and anytime with Don Knotts is time well spent.
Brief recap of story: A brother and sister from the 1990s are magically
transported into the world of a fictitious television show from the
1950s. There actions have consequences and result in major changes with
the characters from the show.
The misandric (anti-male) messages abound. As the (positive) changes occur in the town, the adult males are the ones that are shown as being adamantly opposed,and are shown as stereotypical stuck-in-the-muds that don't like change. The adult males are shown as incompetents that are unable to even cook for themselves and gripe about having no one (i.e. their wives, which they are *dependant* upon like children) cook, clean or prepare their clothing for them.
The movie goes into depth to portray what the expectations of women back in the 1950s (e.g. cooking and cleaning), yet does NOTHING to portray the limitations and responsibilities imposed upon males, like providing for the family, wearing a suit and tie everyday and "male"-oriented work like yardwork. As with most aspects of modern culture, only the lamentations of frustrated women are shown and males are shown as living in a utopian society with no worries or limits.
Just as other movies, this movie shows a woman having a extra marital affair and it is "justified" because she has grown weary of her married life. Despite the fact that she never *discusses* the matter with her husband, who remains OBLIVIOUS to the changes that are happening, she has decided that her husband cannot cope with her newly discovered sexual desires and seeks out another man. This, of course, would be *taboo* if a man had done it; there are enough movies showing what a creep a man is who cheats on his wife, yet a when a woman has an affair it is always "justified". The father character is shown as being a nice guy, who never accosts his family, provides for them and seems to do nothing wrong, yet this also portrays him as being boring and therefore needs to change.
The movie started with an interesting premise and had really good acting and good special effects, I just found it difficult to stomach the frequent negative attitudes about males and the male bashing. This movie would fit in well in the book, Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Males in Popular Culture.
Overall the movie was pretty hypocritical. The basic premise was, "People should be free to do what they want, as long as what they want is what we tell them they want." For example, the father character was comfortable and happy with his old life. *That* was the life he wanted and he was happy with it. But this is portrayed as wrong because he is not "changing" his lifestyle to conform to what the other people are saying. Huh?
When a mysterious TV repairman gives David a new remote control both he and
his sister gets sucked into an old 50's show called Pleasantville. A first
all seems perfect in a cheesy 1950's way - all language is wholesome,
everything is black and white, none of the sports team ever miss and nothing
is unwholesome. However when David and Jenifer begin to influence those
around them they not only change attitudes and behaviour but start to bring
colour to the town. The town splits in it's attitude to this
This is a very gentle comedy but with a hint of a moral about it. It starts out with `once upon a time' and that's quite apt in that it is a fable with a moral in the way many fairy tales are. At the start it's all quite small and the film almost shows the changes as bad and something that has comedy value, however later the changes are shown as something that should be embraced rather than feared. Then those who fear change and expression are shown to be wrong. It's all quite clever - the only problem to me was that the message felt a bit muddled and could have been a bit clearer - but then maybe that's the point, we learn our own lessons from it.
The effects are excellent throughout - colour creeps in in some objects and people to great effect. It's very well done and never seems unnatural. As a metaphor for change or lost innocence it gets a bit tired but for most it's very effective as a way of seeing people's true feelings come out.
The cast are great - Maguire and Witherspoon are both good (yes, even Witherspoon!), but the real strength comes from the adult support cast. Daniels gives a great understated role, it's not his best as he plays it a little too much like a wounded deer at times but he's still very good. Allen is the strongest as she has to carry much of the story with Macy who it goes without saying is superb - they share some very emotionally charged scenes together. It's always a pleasure to see the late J.T. Walsh in anything and here he is good in a comparatively minor role.
Overall this is a very enjoyable film that is very thoughtful and easily overcomes it's slow pace and slight lack of total clarity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very possibly my favorite film of all time. Pleasantville explores a
greatly simplified fantasy world -- a hypothetical 50's TV sitcom --
and examines what happens when reality intrudes on its premises. As
Shakespeare put it, "There's more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of
in your philosophy."
Unfortunately, some reviewers see the film as commentary of another kind. They view it as a confirmation of, or attack on, their own personal philosophies, political, social, or the like. For those who are expecting such, let me say what "Pleasantville" is NOT:
* It is not a criticism of the 1950s, its social mores or political bent.
* It is not a celebration of liberalism versus some conservative straightjacket view of the world.
* It is not a groundbreaking, original thought piece on philosophy, religion or anything of the like.
The creators of this film could have made it such, but I think they were smarter than that.
What Pleasantville IS is a celebration of real life, in all its messy, confusing, beautiful and often painful detail. And the celebration is masterfully executed.
The device of the 50s sitcom is used to convey the film's central point: that it is often easy, comforting, even helpful for us to think about things in simplistic terms, and even that there isn't anything wrong with that per se.
But to think about REAL LIFE this way is to live a smaller, lesser life. Life without color is easy to look at, and it certainly works. But a black-and-white life is certainly less of a life. OK, that one's easy, and that's where "Pleasantville" starts. ("I'm supposed to be IN COLOR!") Even the next evolution, that life is better with sex, is pretty much taken for granted, but of course that "enhancement" to Pleasantville later brings the real-life complications we can all predict.
And the complications continue, as Pleasantville residents discover that there are other places in the world, other people, other ways to think and imagine as evidenced in the books that had all heretofore been blank. As evidenced in the changes in music we hear at the soda shop. And these complications aren't all good. They introduce upheaval, prejudice, violence.
But the film successfully carries the theme that you just can't have the good without the bad. It keeps reminding the viewer that, if you're thinking that way, you are missing a subtlety of life, and you'd better think again. And I think it goes even further, making the case that even the existence of these evils makes life the richer for living, because they enable us to distinguish what we like and wish for from what we find reprehensible.
My favorite scene of the film may be when Bud brings Mr. Johnson an art book from the library. As he leafs through its pages, we are left to wonder what life would be like had we never had the chance to see these magnificent works, what a tragedy it would be, what a smaller, meaner life we would have lived. And a later remark in the film reminds us that seeing is only part of life, that the real joy is in understanding what we have the privilege to experience.
The film seems at times like it is hitting the viewer over the head, but it's deeper than that. When Bud takes (Betty Sue?) to Lover's Lane, his first trip there, she offers him some berries as they sit on the grass by the pond. And then she gets up, runs to a nearby tree, picks a shiny red apple, and offers it to him. The metaphor is painfully obvious, but it's supposed to be. We all recognize it. The point is, Bud recognizes it too, and he realizes in that moment that the fact that not all change is good will sooner or later intrude on the lives of these people, which is precisely what then begins to happen in the film. The scene isn't precious for a "Do You Get It?" Adam & Eve metaphor, it's precious for the look on Bud's face as HE realizes the metaphor being enacted when a beautiful girl offers him a bite of a nice red apple, as his look reveals his thought: "Uh oh. This is about to get ugly."
If you're looking for a groundbreaking thought work, look elsewhere than Pleasantville. It treats a classic theme, not a brand new one. But it does not, in my view, pretend to do more than that, and it treats that theme brilliantly.
The basic theme here being that the meaningful life requires breaking out of
rigid, dull and conventional roles, this film's story sucks two teens back
through their television set to a fictitious 1950s sitcom named
"Pleasantville," where life is in gray-tones until they start breaking the
rules. The self-referential notion of having characters interact with the
very media which represents them has its counterpart as far back as 1924
with Buster Keaton in "Sherlock Jr.," in 1970 with a low-budget film named
"The Projectionist," and in 1985 with Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of
Cairo." But where the others explore the private experience of
self-discovery through their enmeshment with the media, this one explores a
much wider public awareness. In that sense it is a very cleaver and
intelligent story, offering numerous social messages worthy of
On the downside, its message that "different" is better mostly translates into "contrary" means better, providing an "anything goes" mentality in answer to conventional values. The rules are to be broken by gratuitous sex, loud music, and cheap garish art. Not "transcending" in answer to different, but rather setting up what is conventional today as more desirable than what was conventional back then. Exchanging one convention for another is not for that reason an improvement, and the attempt to do so results in a self-congratulatory narcissism of the form: See how much more urbane and sophisticated we are than our parents were? The 1950s are set up as a straw-man, while the values of the 1990s are simply taken for granted as superior. Hence the deeper questions of change, growth and improvement, are never asked, and what we are given merely puts the past down without bringing up the present.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*spoilers, not that it matters*
A couple of teenagers are thrust into the world of 1950 TV show Pleasantville. The girl, a slutty airhead or valleygirl or whatever you americans call those "it's like, you know, totally!" types, proceeds to bang the first guy to talk to her, and since sex doesn't exist in 50's TV shows, it turns their world upside down. We are then kindly told by the director/script-writers (complete with cheery music) that lots of sex with no feelings involved is better than having ultra-clean morals. After all, clean morals are for boring people. Tobey McGuire's character goes from calm geek to sex-starved teenager because some good-looking girl he never met made him cookies after he becomes popular (awwww, true love). This film is filled with such positive values.
All in all, it's a very childish movie obviously written by an amateur. It even contradicts itself, since the nice people portrayed in Pleasantville would never turn into a fanatical violent mob. The worst scene is when the father of the family, who is consistently shown as a nice guy throughout the movie (talking to his children, kissing his wife, etc), is ruined by doing a 180, he's turned into a close-headed chauvinist so that we can give the lively wife a big scene where she proclaims her independence about how she doesn't want to make dinner, that she wants to run off with another man. And we're actually supposed to be glad for the wife here.
Pleasantville has been favorably compared to The Truman Show, which
premiered earlier this year. However, I feel Pleasantville doesn't hold a
candle to The Truman Show. While Truman offered genuine pathos, a
sympathetic, even heroic lead, and insight into the intrusive nature of
television, Pleasantville is overlong, repetitive, simplistic, and hollow.
The plot of Pleasantville has two modern-day teen-agers being magically transported to a fictional T.V. show set in the '50's, called Pleasantville (by no less a character than Don Knotts, the movie's only inspired idea). The boy, played by Toby Maguire, likes it there - it's a nice respite from his family problems, which includes his sister, played by Reese Witherspoon. She is transported with her brother, but feels she has entered Nerdville, and so sets out to change her surroundings to something she is more familiar with, something with a more 90's sensibility, like, say with...sex?
This is actually an interesting premise, especially since the 50's world is in black and white, and only gradually introduced to color. Unfortunately, the movie takes a black and white attitude in its morality too, hammering the same point home over and over again. I think the movie is basically saying the 50's was a time of stifling conformity, dull and unimaginative culture, and in the end, threatening and oppressive patriarchy. The 90's, on the other hand, offers ultruistic freedom, better values, and color! to life.
Please! One could make a better argument that the 90's offers moral decay and fear, as evidenced by broken families, teenage pregnancy, violence, and general cynicism towards all authority. The film takes the logically dubious step of taking 50's sitcom sensibility and making it the reality of that time. Just ask how 90's sitcoms accurately reflect 90's reality. One could defend the movie by saying that it is not making a literal 50's - 90's comparison, but is making the more general point that freedom is better than confromity. This is a truism and doesn't need over two hours to justify, and besides, the movie is taking that comparison seriously. The audience shouldn't.
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