Pleasantville (1998) Poster

(1998)

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10/10
I heard about this movie, but I didn't know that it would be THIS good....
Edward J. Cunningham8 April 2000
I knew what this film would be about before I rented it, but I'm stunned that it would be THIS good. Nothing against "Saving Private Ryan" or "Shakespeare in Love", but this film should have won Best Picture in 1998 and it was a shame that it wasn't nominated. It's an even bigger injustice that it did not get a nomination for best screenplay or cinematography.

In the hands of another writer, this movie could have been made as just a parody of 1950's sitcoms like "Leave It To Beaver" or "Ozzie and Harriet." But this film isn't about how clichéd those series look decades later. It's about the false nostalgia for a past that never existed. We survived the past and we know that everything turned out all right. Because of this, we selectively choose our memories and weed out the unpleasant ones. That's why the past is sometimes seen as "the good ol' days." Pleasantville does not represent how the 50's actually were but rather an idealization of what people THINK the 50's were---no one had sex, everyone got along swell, and life was fairly easy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and there are many film from that era which show how real people (even in suburbia) actually lived. This film argues that free will and choice is ESSENTIAL to life and that we should embrace freedom instead of fearing it. It isn't just about making out, but having the OPTION to make out.

Another reviewer claimed that this film was an attack on the 50's, but David and Jennifer could very easily have been dumped in the world of "The Brady Bunch", "Gilligan's Island" , or "Batman." But setting "Pleasantville" in a 1950's sitcom allows for the brilliant metaphor of black and white versus color. Black and white photography is a stylized depiction of the universe, but unless you're color blind it's not the way you actually see the universe. When we first see Pleasantville's citizens, all of them are cardboard cut-outs of stereotypes. As they begin to open up and become real people, color seeps into their world. The catalyst seems to be the willingness to experience new sensations and become vulnerable. Jennifer has slept with lot of guys when she was in the normal world, so sex does not change HER into a color character. On the other hand, when she actually finishes a book (without pictures) for the first time in her life, THEN she becomes colorized. Similarly, David does not bloom into color until he breaks out of his aloofness and defends his "mother." Compare the way he ignores his real mother at the beginning of the film to how he consoles and comforts her at the end to see how much David has changed.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. There are a lot of films out there that are very entertaining and/or very moving--like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Titanic." Movies like "Pleasantville" which challenge the audience and force them to think are very rare, and should be treasured by the discerning filmgoer.
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9/10
A brilliant fairytale..
nchng28 March 2001
I thoroughly enjoyed "Pleasantville" from the 'Once upon a time' through the film fading to black.

The acting was top notch all around, as was the use of special effects; in very few films has colour been used so effectively that it can convey a story seemingly without help from dialogue or music.

I can see how some people would perceive it as merely another mouthpiece of liberalism, but I watched it twice, and I only noticed it attacking bigotry and censorship. What was wrong wasn't that these people were living according conservative values, but that they didn't really choose those values in the first place!

I like the fact that the film was bold, and that it made its point as directly as it contrasted the black and white with the splotches of Technicolour. While "Pleasantville" had little subtlety in its allegory, it was, like any good fairytale, beautiful in its simplicity.

Nine out of ten =)
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A brilliant commentary on life
sdbirdsi5 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
One night after working something like 6 or 7 hours at a movie store, I went to see a one of the last films on my list for the week that I hadn't gotten to. My manager and I seem to go out to movies a lot after work. It's odd how people who around film all day cling to it for relaxation at the end of the shift. We knew the manager of the theater, so we got in free.

I knew Pleasantville was about some kids who fall into a world of television and adventures ensue. Plus I knew that it had Don Knotts and I've always loved his acting. Expecting a funny little film about TV, I got a brilliant commentary on the social and political environment of the 50's. There were countless religious, political, and racial references throughout the film.

Life in Pleasantville is perfect. For breakfast you get everything your heart desires, the basketball team wins every game, and everyone is just swell. The only problem is that life is set; there is no free will, self-expression, or new thought.

The Characters begin turning colour when they break their set mold, break out of their lives into something new. When Mary sue first has sex with Skip, he doesn't turn to colour because he doesn't know what's happened. The event does lead him to begin seeing the world differently, hence the red rose. People only change when they do something freely and of their own will. The mother and her bathroom incident, when Mary Sure finally discovers life beyond sex and seduction in books and thought, and when Bud finally stands up for himself.

The fact that new thought and experience leads to the thought of the breakdown of the Pleasantville world speaks to the desire in the 50's not to change. Things were good, values were abundant, and life was good. Dinner was ready at 6, the wife was always home cleaning or cooking or something. Then came those greasers and people doing more than holding hands. One of the main points of this film was that change is one of those things that can become undesirable, but is needed to evolve and grow as a society.

Another big statement this film makes is one the issue of racism, and very well I might add. There are no black people in Pleasantville. This isn't an attack of any sort on race. I'm sure you can count on one hand the average number of black people in a 50's television show. The point is that the colored people are representative of all nationalities oppressed in the fifties, even through today. Because of things they could not necessarily control, they are all hated and spat upon for being different. Especially in the end when all the `colored' people are at the top of the courthouse segregated from the non-colored people. And don't forget the `no colored people' signs in the shop windows.

This film is about more than the way things were and how change is good. It's about the way we see ourselves inside and out. If life is static and non-changing, then all you get is black and white. It's only when people allow themselves to grow and mature as people and human beings that they see the world through coloured eyes. Pleasantville only becomes whole when everyone sees appears in colour. Only then do the roads open up and the life beyond the town exists. It's odd how people in the city know what colour is, yet are shocked when it appears everywhere.
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10/10
floored
adamw_1316 February 2003
Some critics here are saying the movie takes itself too seriously - but I believe some people are taking it too literally. ... Saying that the topics that are addressed have no impact on society anymore, clearly misses the point. ... The 50s -- or more specifically, 50s TV -- is used as a metaphor, because of the way 50s TV portrayed life in America. ... Thematically, this movie is about "Living Life" to the fullest, whatever that means. More specifically, to live life to the fullest -- to truly feel "alive" -- you need to take the good with the bad. Sweeping things under the rug and just acting "pleasant" all the time, is no way to live. That's what Tobey McGuire's speech at the end to his "real" mother is all about. Bad things happen, it's part of life. Having passion brings with it positives and negatives -- but suppressing true feelings for the sake of "pleasantness" is an empty life. THAT is the key ... and that "issue" is everlasting to the human condition.

Another point: People fear change. This is universal from the start of time until the end of time. The film suggests that changing and growing as a society and as people -- even if scary -- is good. Just because the 50s were used as a metaphor for that, don't believe for a minute this isn't a universal issue that exists today and forever.

Another issue common for people critical of this film is the sexual issue. They say that Gary Ross is promoting sexual promiscuity, sex out of wedlock, etc... Again, I believe it misses the point. Is Ross suggesting that premarital sex is OK? Yes, and I'd agree - and I'm sure there's plenty of people who don't agree with that, and that's OK too. But, again, the sex is just part of the theme - used as a high-profile example to making the overall point about "openness" - and not suppressing one's feelings. Note that the Reese Witherspoon character was already promiscuous, and her transformation was actually something completely different.

I can't make everyone like this film - I'll just say that, on a personal note, I was so floored by this film, I had to see it again the next day. That had never happened to me before, or since. Ross' commentary goes on to speak of everything I felt about the film when I first saw it. It was great to hear that his reasons for what he did, meshed exactly with how I took it. I had to write him a letter to tell him so - another thing I'd never done before or since.

This is not a perfect film. I liked its subtlety, but then the racism correlation, and the censorship stuff, got a bit more overt. The courtroom scene at the end is a bit cliche ... and I also agree with one poster who said that, to make the point about taking the good with the bad, we should've seen a bit more about the consequences of their actions.

Those are merely nitpicks in the grand scheme of things. This is a 10 out of 10.
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10/10
The Colors of Modern Life seems Brighter than ever before
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.
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8/10
A brilliant and vastly underrated cinematic experience
Isaac585523 October 2006
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.
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Positively Wonderful
Tetsel14 November 1998
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.
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First of all...I really liked it.
gagliano13 February 2000
First of all....I really liked it. Ignore any review (and reviewer) that says different. We live in a day and age that we seems like every movie has a touch of this old film and bit of that one...or is a remake or possibly a re-release. But Pleasantville is none of that...it is unique, fresh, reflective, pleasant (you knew I was going to use that word someplace), sad, but yet still had a touch of fun. The film begins by looking at the interaction between and the lives of a brother (Tobey Maguire) and sister (Reese Witherspoon). The brother is very content with his life and enjoys watching television, in particular, the show, Pleasantville. His sister, a bit more outgoing, enjoys meeting new people and seeing where this interaction will lead. A fight over which show to watch results in the intervention by Don Knotts (of Andy Griffith and Three's Company fame). Maguire and Witherspoon are wisked into the television set and take center stage as two of the Pleasantville cast. The only difference is while the world may be watching a tv show, to them, this is their reality. The film appears to be in black and white, but as each character opens their mind or changes from the perception of the Pleasantville tv show, then they begin to gain color. As those in color become more prevalent, the old black & whites become resistant to change. To ebb the flow of change, the black and whites react violently against the "new colors" and begin placing restrictions on them. Yes the similarities of the 60s civil rights movement are here as are the violent acts of the Nazis in pre-World War II. But while you see these, you are also brought to the realization that there still exists a great deal of prejudice, discrimination, and close-mindedness in this world. One of the most pleasing aspects of this film is the cinematography, the mixing of the colors with the black & white shots were great. The story keeps your interest and the characters impact upon each member of the audience in their own special way. This is one film to see for I think you will hear more about it around Oscar time. Bottom line...if we open our minds more towards others, letting them be who they are, rather than who we want them to be, then not only will we be richer in color, but also richer in character.
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10/10
A marvel
John Pirie5 December 2005
Warning: 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.
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8/10
Absolutely heartwarming w/amazing performances.
TheEmulator2312 May 2010
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.
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a wonderful many layered experience that put a smile on my face again
dark one18 December 1999
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.
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8/10
Original fairy tale that kids and especially adults can enjoy
KineticSeoul13 April 2010
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.

8.3/10
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Where everything is always the same.
Cipher-J27 January 2003
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 consideration.

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.
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Good tale on values and change that loses it's way occasionally and is quite slow
bob the moo14 January 2002
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 change.

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.
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9/10
A unique movie that i did nothing but enjoy. Send my regards to Gary Ross.
lrocksalot25 June 2011
In short terms, this is one of the best movies i've seen in a while. seriously think this is one of Tobey Maguire's best performances, along with so many other great actors and actresses that i don't even have to name. And the beauty of the scenery is just the icing on the cake. The best thing about this movie is that it only gets better each time you watch it, because you understand more of what's happening. It's hard to say anything that hasn't already been said, so all i have to say is, i fully recommend this to anybody that appreciates the more subtle movies that have so much more meaning and depth to them. It was just so, how do i put this, "pleasant." Gary Ross, i send my regards.
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4/10
Technically proficient but simplistic
100112 November 1998
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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8/10
Honey! I'm home.
sharky_5512 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The key theme in Pleasantville is that you do not turn colour until you have truly been set free, until you have broken the shackles of your confinement and step out of your pre-defined mould (utopia as dystopia). On face value this seems a little confusing; after all Jennifer doesn't seem to do anything much than start reading and studying, somehow magically struck by the nerd gene and gaining her pigment and redemption. On a closer look, this seems to be linked to the cultural and artistic explosion that occurs in Pleasantville with their arrival - Mr Johnson's multicoloured murals, the books and their spontaneously appearing stories and illustrations, the rock-and-roll tracks that suddenly creep up onto the buttons of the jukebox.

David goes through the opposite transformation. A cleverly edited sequence of faux-intimate closeups at the beginning establishes his loser, outsider status. We expect him to burst with colour as soon as he makes the changes and gets Bud to receive Margaret's cookies. But it is actually an act of bravery, in taking on the 'bullies' that harass her coloured mother that sees him undergo the same change. No doubt they are carbon copies of the brutes back in high school in the real world.

Gary Ross' imagery is clear and clean cut, which is probably why this has been studied in schools. The colour is a delightful and distinct way of representing freedom and blossoming. First it starts with just a red rose after a sexual awakening - a double meaning, with the petals also flowering and blossoming. And you have all the sexual undertones that go with roses and 'pins' and cherries. The splashes of colour are applied to other concepts - a buzzing clock, to signify time (and the town) finally moving forwards after years of stasis, a burning bush for orgasmic clarity of thought (biblical reaching here to the apple and the idea of 'knowledge is power') and eventually, a historical mirroring of events that are not so long and completely gone. There is a brilliant allusion here to To Kill a Mockingbird, with the 'coloured' congregated in the upstairs level of the court.

What's also wonderful is the use of humour to flip our expectations. Ross has more or less established the conventions of the Pleasantville restrictions by the time we dive into the screen, but it is nevertheless hilarious when a player missed a shot and the team stares incredulous at the defective ball like it was a ticking bomb, or when Jennifer hurries off to the bathroom and find each stall utterly empty. Mr Johnson is so helpless and trapped within routine that he has taken to rubbing the same spot at the bar over and over. But by the end of the film he sits on one end of the bench. Personal and political repression has been replaced by freedom to choose...they have no idea what their roles are or how this particular episode might end...but that is the beauty in it.
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7/10
Turning your black and white life into a world of colour
david-sarkies19 October 2013
Warning: 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.
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4/10
Moving but Overly Broad Social Criticism in Comedy (spoilers)
trpdean8 September 2001
Warning: 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 rented them both for the first time and watched them back to back - and much preferred Pleasantville as more profound, funnier, and having more original writing.

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.
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1/10
Oh, how the world has changed. Or has it?
MadWatch12 October 2004
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?
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1/10
Pure manure
Cornelius Chesterfield21 December 2002
Warning: 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.

Definitely pass.
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1/10
Writer/First-time director Ross's bastardized version of Adam and Eve.
seefilms25 October 1998
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 line.

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?
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1/10
Dull and pointless
JAM-3114 February 2002
Pleasantville is a really messy, unfocused film that has nothing to do but define its' own atmosphere for over two hours, while trying to convince us that there is a much deeper meaning behind it all.

I'm no expert on shows from the fifties, and I am not a product of that era, but I have of course watched many shows from that period and I understand what the movie was going for; it was trying to show us that things aren't as picture perfect as they appeared in those shows, and that change into the modern world isn't so bad--it just makes us "free". Fine, that's a cute premise, maybe for one of today's sitcoms (in which it has already been done many times before), but the town of "Pleasantville" is such an extreme exaggeration that I never bought the fantasy world presented within it. This is something that is necessary to the viewer when it comes to films involving fantasy--we must believe in the world depicted. It didn't work for me at all. Sex was something that was never talked about on shows from the 1950's, but I'm sure Mrs. Cleaver (Yes, I mean the fictional character) knew what it was! I also think that the characters from those shows also knew that there was a world beyond their own town, that there were days when it would rain, and that the local sports teams didn't always win.

Director Gary Ross seems pretty unsure of his material himself, and that is probably why the film keeps defining itself; within the last half-hour of the movie, a young boy punches another. Those watching look on in surprise and wonder. "They've never seen violence before" someone a few rows behind me in the theatre said. Well, duh! I thought this was clear as soon as the movie started (but I still never bought it), leaving the audience to defend the monotony of the screenplay. At one point, William H. Macy looks all over the place for his wife, looking for his dinner. "I feel sorry for him," an uncomfortable audience member said.

When the movie is not overdoing itself in explaining its world, it is trying to shock us with sexual humor, also in the same, tedious, overblown way--after Paul Walker is deflowered by Reese Witherspoon, the camera LINGERS on him, emphasizing his shocked and dumbfounded expression, milking it for ungenuine laughs. The film then TEDIOUSLY expands this single joke commonly throughout the movie, showing us shocking images of kinky sex acts, some I can't even mention here, for my comments won't be posted (HINT: one involves a popular number in the double digits), and when we're not seeing the acts of sex or the blown-away expressions of those who have just experienced it, we get some really "shocking" conversation; Reese Witherspoon has been shacking up with every guy in sight, then educates her mother on ways to "please" herself--Oh, MY! Another shock, provoking embarrassed and courteous laughs from the audience.

The final scenes of the film dissolve into complete disorder; Don Knotts starts getting angry at the kids for their disruption of Pleasantville, and goes quite mad, but what was he expecting in the first place, and why does his demeanor change so radically from that of the first act? Other characters end their stories without solutions, not that its wrong to leave certain stories open-ended--I just feel that Ross didn't know what he wanted to do with most of his characters. The final scene "Gee, you know you're pretty smart" is poorly written, tacked-on, unsatisfying, and forced.

I think what bothers me most about the film is that, since these banal characters are just imaginary, dull caricatures of 50's television shows, who don't even really exist, why should we care about them? At one point, Tobey Macguire's character is offered the chance to leave Pleasantville, but he turns it down--he wants to make a "difference" here. WHO CARES! It's just a TV show! Maybe I would have cared if I found the world of Pleasantville to be believable, but I never did. Grade: D
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7/10
Brave New World Meets The Twilight Zone
Lechuguilla10 July 2003
I like this film. It's different. It invites the viewer to think about, and ponder, concepts like morality and values, stereotypes, fear, and social change. Each person will come away with his or her own interpretation of the film's "meaning". And this "meaning" will be consistent, no doubt, with the viewer's own life experiences, values, and belief system.

I consider "Pleasantville" to be a quasi-sci-fi film, one that I think Aldous Huxley and Rod Serling would both approve of.

The film does seem to get bogged down in the middle. It overplays the sex angle. And I could wish for more 1950's rock and roll music. But the acting is fine, especially the performance of Joan Allen. And the lighting is very well done.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that a film made in the last ten years could be as original, as cerebral, and as under-stated as "Pleasantville".
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10/10
Altercation over continuity
napierslogs8 October 2010
"Pleasantville" begins with two teenagers getting zapped into a TV show by a remote control. That kind of fantasy premise rarely plays out as something so good. What follows is an intelligent, funny and introspective examination of today's interpretation of 1950s sitcoms.

Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) and David (Tobey Maguire) are 90s teens, that are real and funny at the same time. She's a self-absorbed party girl; he's a nerdy home-body. He's ready to settle into a "Pleasantville" marathon - a black and white TV sitcom, but as laid out in the premise, they instead find themselves playing the brother and sister in the show.

The film follows how their modern ways affect the characters in the show. Some characters go through a sexual awakening, others more of a cultural awakening, but they each mature and advance in their own way. Even David and Jennifer find that these TV sitcom characters have something to teach them. The film is just so smart and funny that it doesn't come across as melodramatic, and the lessons on society aren't in your face.

"Pleasantville" is beautifully shot and well written, and is far from the teen fantasy film that it sometimes gets advertised as. Highly recommended.
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