Cathy is the perfect 50s housewife, living the perfect 50s life: healthy kids, successful husband, social prominence. Then one night she surprises her husband Frank kissing another man, and her tidy world starts spinning out of control. In her confusion and grief, she finds consolation in the friendship of their African-American gardener, Raymond - a socially taboo relationship that leads to the further disintegration of life as she knew it. Despite Cathy and Frank's struggle to keep their marriage afloat, the reality of his homosexuality and her feelings for Raymond open a painful, if more honest, chapter in their lives. Written by
Jonas A. Reinartz <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Second in the poll for FIPRESCI GRAND PRIX OF THE YEAR 2003. See more »
In January 1958 (when she could reasonably be expected to be reading the latest January or February issue), Cathy reads an August 1957 issue of Cosmopolitan (Polly Bergen cover) that hit stands a half year earlier. See more »
Works on several levels (though some better than others)
Cathy and Frank are a society couple in 1950's Connecticut. Their perfect house, perfect kids and happy marriage all contribute to making them the toast of the middle classes. However Frank's secret desire for men wrecks Cathy's image of their marriage but they manage to keep it a secret and seek help. When Cathy confides in her black gardener the rumours begin that again threaten Cathy's all-American society queen existence.
It helps when writing a review of a film like this that you can throw round all the right references and draw comparison's wit the two Sirk films from which Haynes drew inspiration from. Sadly I can't do that as I haven't seen either of the works (although have seen some Sirk films), so I'll do the best I can! From the outset this film builds a plastic perfect 50's world before revealing that everything isn't as the outside world (and even those on the inside) may perceive. This works well but the film is strong because it works on several other levels past this one.
Past the fake nature of lives we are all human after all are several other broader themes that are not as clear but still important. The place of women is society is one where Frank's indiscretion appears to still let him work etc, Cathy much smaller crime sees her condemned from all around. Her relationship with Raymond shows how women held social status only as trophies in some circles and, when this role was threatened or made redundant, they had little more standing that blacks etc.
The two fallings of Frank and Cathy are parallel and it is interesting to see the two. Frank stigma that he must hide is one of sexuality while Cathy is less lucky in that her stigma is as clear to observers as the skin on Raymond's face. This is not to say that the film works as well on each of these levels, but it does work well enough on all of them. It is slow and patient and it may frustrate some audiences who will claim `nothing really happens' if a review says this then ignore it they have clearly missed the point.
The 50's feel is bang on and very well done. I'm not sure if Haynes has lifted the touches that make it feel `50's' from Sirk directly (i.e. copied) but it really works. The colours are lush and every set and costume feel like it must be straight from the 50's. It is to Haynes credit that he has done this without being camp or wistful in the way that many films set in the period can be. He plays it straight down the line.
The cast are roundly good. Moore deversedly got her nomination for this work and she is excellent. She never goes over the top but is visibly simmering throughout. Quaid is good but has a less complex character to carry, we don't get to understand what he is going through or felling is it deep guilt, lust, love etc? Haysbert in 24 is OK but plays a stiff, morally righteous man who is so `good' as to be difficult to swallow! Here it is not quite as bad but Raymond is still a ` good, wholesome' man. Haysbert does him well but again I wanted more to the character. The support cast are good and all play the plastic socialites and professionals of 1950's well.
Overall this film is very lush nothing but praise can be given to director, costumes and set designers etc. The cast are all good even if they must act with decorum and patience throughout and the emotion and drama of the story (although stilted and controlled) is still very involving. A very good film if it had been made in the 50's it would be held as a classic today.
30 of 34 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?