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Very Close to Heaven
GodsLionesse11 January 2003
Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, a homage to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, is an exquisitely crafted film of beauty and grace. The world that Haynes creates is so meticulously detailed that one almost forgets that the movie isn't fifty years old.

Julianne Moore deserves an Academy Award for her portrayal of Cathy Whitaker, a homemaker whose idyllic life begins to disintegrate when she learns that her husband is gay. Moore's Cathy is a delicate woman who would like to be courageous, but can't be because of the world that she is trapped in. As her innocence begins to die, she realizes how empty and superficial her life is. When she begins a cautious romance with her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert) she begins to see the racism and hypocrisy that forms the underbelly of a seemingly perfect world. At the end of the film Cathy has no illusions, and realizes that the life that she thought was perfect is actually a never-ending hell.

Dennis Quaid is equally stunning as Cathy's tortured husband Frank. After Cathy discovers his homosexuality, the two are forced to grapple with a truth that neither of them can comprehend. Frank goes to a doctor for "treatment," and his confession is heartbreaking. He says that he "can't let this thing, this sickness, destroy my life. I'm going to beat this thing." We look at Frank and pity him because we realize that such a feat is impossible, and unnecessary, but Frank does not possess that knowledge. Frank begins to drink more, and when he finally breaks down and tells Cathy that he has fallen in love with another man, all of the anger, shame, and joy comes pouring out of him all at once. It is a supremely moving moment, and the best performance of Quaid has ever given.

As the marriage between Cathy and Frank begins to unravel, the two also begin to fight. All of Cathy and Frank's arguments and confessions take place at night, bathed in shadows. The truth has no place in this bright, artificial world, and it must stay hidden at all costs. One night, when Frank tries to make love to Cathy and can't, Cathy tries to placate him, saying that he is "all man" to her. At that remark Frank hits her, and for a moment the audience does not breathe. Cathy then asks quietly for her husband to get her some ice. Cathy is all restraints, and it is only with her kind gardener that she has a chance to break free. The scenes between Moore and Haysbert crackle with erotic energy because everything remains unsaid. When Cathy finally asks him to dance with her, it is a moment when we realize what human beings are capable of being together.

The fourth example of stellar acting comes from Patricia Clarkson as Cathy's best friend Eleanor. Eleanor is a bitter, gossipy, cold-hearted woman, and when she tells Cathy "I am your best friend," you want to scream to Cathy not to believe her. Clarkson makes the most of her rather limited screen time, and turns in a fascinatingly layered performance.

Far From Heaven may very well be the best picture of the year. In creating an artificial world, Todd Haynes has managed to lay bare the human soul in a way that has never been done before. It is a moving and important motion picture, populated with some of the most nuanced acting I have ever seen. Cathy and Frank Whitiker may be far from heaven, but the film comes about as close to heaven as is possible.
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Another superb performance from Julianne Moore
tommyrockt13 July 2003
Todd Haynes' achievement in his homage to the films of Douglas Sirk is so complete, and seems so carefree that it is easy to dismiss FAR FROM HEAVEN as a trifle. The look of such ease is deceptive, however. Haynes' accomplishment, that of telling a new story through a loving recreation of the 50's weepy, is visually sumptuous and sweetly moving. The painstaking effort, from the amazingly overblown dialogue (ever so slightly exaggerated from the style of the actual 50's weepy) to the oversaturated colors and evocative score, never strains the film.

In Julianne Moore he finds the perfect heroine. Her performance is so skilled that we don't see her at work. Though nominated, Ms. Moore was sadly overlooked at the 2003 Oscars. Apparently no one could see past Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose in THE HOURS. (When a beautiful actress plays "ugly" she wins an award. Ms. Kidman's performance in THE HOURS is one of her best in that deeply moving film, but it hardly matches the subtlety and difficulty of Ms. Moore's work in FAR FROM HEAVEN.) With such breathtaking ease that we forget she is acting, Ms. Moore scales the grand challenge of using melodramatic dialogue that verges deliberately on camp to reveal the tenderness and desire of the naive 50's housewife who is the center of FAR FROM HEAVEN. (Watch her face in an early scene where she and the excellent Patricia Clarkson talk with their girlfriends about their respective marriages.)

Credit must be given to Haynes as well, who asks his cast to play it straight. Ms. Moore, who consistently achieves beauty and depth with each performance, brings this tender film to life. She has a fine counterpart in the handsome and Dennis Quaid who has not had such a plumb role since his early days.

Though every film should stand on its own, you should check out the milieu that Todd Haynes is working in – the oeuvre of Douglas Sirk being the main source – but you can also check out earlier films like DARK VICTORY and other domestic dramas.
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a great film in both form and content
Buddy-5110 January 2003
`Far From Heaven' is a total artistic triumph for writer/director Todd Haynes, who has, among other things, provided the most brilliant examination of the codes and values of the 1950's that I have ever seen in a film. His work here turns out to be a uniquely exciting and satisfying blend of form and content. The '50's were, of course, a time when `normality' was the condition most honored and prized in American society. To be just like everyone else was not merely the greatest goal to which one could aspire, but it came to define the very value one had as a human being. And woe to anyone who didn't quite fit into those proscribed limits of `acceptability' - for if one didn't, one had to at least keep up the appearance of respectability and conformity for the benefit of society, even if what went on behind closed doors was something quite different from what people on the outside imagined.

The Whitakers are the model of a perfect '50's family. Frank is a handsome, highly successful businessman with a beautiful, well-respected wife, who divides her time between raising their two children, maintaining their lovely suburban home, and spearheading the requisite number of charities for a woman in her position. In fact, she is such an archetype of the ideal housewife that a local society paper has chosen to feature her as one of their profiles. Cathy's perfect life, however, is quickly shattered when she makes the shocking discovery that the husband she loves so dearly is a closeted homosexual, who obviously married her as a means of hiding the truth from both the world and himself. In true '50's fashion, Frank, when Cathy catches him in the act with another man, decides to seek `treatment' from a therapist, in the vain hope that he will be `cured' of his `problem.' These scenes are a jolting and stark reminder of just how far we've come from the days when this unenlightened viewpoint held sway in society. The film also deals with the issue of racism, when Cathy becomes a confidante and friend of a young black man who works as her gardener. When this relationship is noticed by the townspeople, the ugly realities of bigotry and prejudice come to the fore, proving that, even in a place like Connecticut, where no actual laws segregated blacks from whites, the attitudes of the common citizenry were no more enlightened than those that permeated the Deep South.

In a stroke of genius, Haynes has patterned his film after actual 1950's melodramas, particularly those by director Douglas Sirk, whose movies like `Imitation of Life' and `Magnificent Obsession' provided daring (for the times) studies of social issues like racism and May/December romances within the context of what were, essentially, glossy, visually palatable soap operas. Sirk's films are often honored for their ability to inject subtly subversive sentiments into popular, mainstream entertainments. `Far From Heaven' looks exactly like those films, from the color-splashed autumnal setting to the picture-perfect interiors of an upper-middle class home in suburban New England where familial and personal problems appear as out of place as `Leave it to Beaver' would seem if it were on network TV today. The astounding achievement here is that Haynes is both paying homage to and utterly destroying the period at the same time. He succeeds in immersing the audience for nearly two hours in this amazingly recreated world. We come to feel as trapped in the stifling setting as the characters themselves do. Haynes captures with emotional force the sense of helplessness these characters feel at not being able to `measure up' to the demands of their world and the utter sadness and loneliness caused by the fact that they don't even have anyone they can truly open up to and discuss their problems with, for they become instant candidates for rumor-mongering and societal rejection the moment they do. `Keeping up appearances' becomes the sole consideration in such circumstances, leading many people to lead lives of quiet desperation, hidden behind blandly conformist, upbeat exteriors. In our day and age, when people have gone to the other extreme - pouring out their every twisted idiosyncrasy on daytime TV talk shows for the benefit of a sensation-craving audience - it's important to be reminded of how much worse the alternative can be. If nothing else, `Far From Heaven' is a study of the kind of emotional and psychological damage that can be inflicted on an individual when a society encourages repression and conformity at all costs.

As Cathy, Julianne Moore gives a performance that can be called nothing less than overwhelming. She is utterly heartbreaking as a good-natured woman, totally baffled by the curves life is throwing at her, trying to maintain a façade of normalcy and happiness even though inside her psyche has been inexplicably and irrevocably torn to pieces. She wants desperately to figure out where her husband is coming from, but the distance he keeps putting between himself and her precludes any such understanding. Yet Cathy is also a paradoxical figure in that, even though she is struggling to keep her life and marriage appearing `normal' to the outside world, she is subtly undercutting that goal by challenging the status quo in her relationship with Raymond, the gardener. Her genuine revulsion at the racist attitudes she sees around her compels her to act in a way true to her own convictions. Moore does a perfect job conveying every facet of this richly detailed and complex character. It is certainly award-worthy work from one of our very finest actresses. As Frank, Dennis Quaid, in a controlled, restrained and heart-wrenching performance, captures the sadness of a man who wants desperately to live the life he's chosen but who just can no longer fight against the truth of his own nature. In a way, Cathy and Frank's situations are mirror images of one another. Both discover a `love' on the outside of societal norms, yet, because of the personal pain that that love is inflicting on the other partner in the marriage (his for another man and hers for another man, as well), the two hurting people seem unable to perceive that connection they share. These two fine performers turn what might have been just a cold exercise in style into a deeply moving and profoundly meaningful work

Technically, the film is a masterpiece on every level, from its art direction to its costume design to its cinematography. The veteran composer Elmer Bernstein has provided a richly evocative symphonic score, modeled on actual '50's style soundtracks, that brings out the melodramatic richness of the film's many set pieces. Yet, his work here also has a quieter quality, particularly in the subtle piano riff, which reminds us quite a bit of his classic score for `To Kill a Mockingbird.' As a director, Haynes shows himself in total control of his medium, blending all these elements into a complete and satisfying whole.

`Far From Heaven' is really unlike any movie you have ever seen, a fascinating admixture of the old and the modern. It also happens to be one of the very best films of 2002, a true work of art.
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Works on several levels (though some better than others)
bob the moo28 February 2003
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.
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im00sev12 April 2003
I'm telling you, everybody's just falling in love with all the wrong people in this flick, but it's extremely captivating and the characters are perfectly engaging. I'm a bit shocked at some of your reviews here because I don't think many of you know much about the period. I do. To boot, I'm gay. Julianne Moore is excellent and deserving of the acclaim she's received for this role, as well as Quaid in the supporting role. The thing I think most people missed (or haven't made much comment on) is that both Kathleen and Frank are victims of heart-felt emotions at a time when expressing them is unthinkable. They are equally challenged by simple and earnest desires to "fill the void" in their lives: Kathleen with her giant colorblind heart in a cold society of bigots and Frank in his corporate supremacy and his "It's a different kind of love, Charlie Brown" headache. One reviewer said Frank was abusive, closeted (sure, obviously, duh) and an alcoholic. I guess if you'd ever been through that type of situation you might be a bit more forgiving because it is hell and I came from the 50s so trust. Each of these obviously well-developed characters is simply doing the best they can in a world where their ground-breaking feelings are out of place. I loved it. I own it. And I, clearly, do not advise that slim minds or socially challenged people attempt it. However, if you can watch a movie and not be a judge, if you can accept things not from your time and not about you but about very, very grand new ideas, it's an extremely well-made, well-acted and accurate film. I personally forgot we had so much orange and green furniture. And Moore is to be also commended on how well she wore those giant skirts :)
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The way we were
moviemanMA15 July 2007
A man and his wife enter the office of a man who could possibly save the man from a life threatening illness. THe process includes many visits with a psychiatrist and possibly some electro-shock therapy. No, this person does not have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. This man is a homosexual.

Yes, it is true, this man is considered "sick" but that is just one of the many skewed attitudes of the 1950's that director Todd Haynes brings to light in Far From Heaven. Julianne Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, the wife of Frank Whitaker, Dennis Quaid, who are the proud parents of two children. The live the life that people envied. A nice home, money, success, and happiness. All of that comes crashing down when Cathy discovers her husband is not who he really is.

Cathy goes to Frank's work to drop off some dinner only to discover that her husband is in the arms of another man. Frank says that he is "sick" and wants treatment. Cathy, the "super wife" is behind him 100 percent, as if he really had an illness to beat. Frnak is ashamed and doesn't want support, just some privacy while he goes through session after session of therapy to try and make him "normal".

To add to this difficulty, the family gardener passes away and his son Raymond, Dennis Haysbert, takes over. Cathy comes to confide in Raymond and find peace of mind in his attitude and his overall good nature. The neighborhood looks down on their friendship and casts a shadow on the household. Raymond, a black man, is much like Cathy, seeing not color, but people. Even in New Haven, Connecticut, the feeling of white superiority still runs through the veins of its inhabitants.

The movie from start to finish is wonderful. It is a roller-coaster of emotions. Moore, Quaid, and Haysbert give fantastic performances. Even Patricia Clarkson, who plays Cathy one true friend in the neighborhood gives a delightful performance.

It's not just the acting that gives this movie it's lift off of the ground. Haynes direction and the art direction of the film create a pallet of colors and emotions that set the mood for each seen. The film opens in autumn. The leaves are shades of red, yellow, and orange, a true autumnal foliage like you would see on a Vermont postcard. The clothing is a perfect time capsule of the 50's. Haynes also uses a lot of colored lights to directly influence the mood of a scene. The green neon light of the gay bar Frank enters gives a strange feel like an alien world. The blue light that comes in through the windows in his office at night and in their home after a party means something dramatic is taking place.

Elmer Bernstein has racked up 14 nominations for his music, including a win for Throughly Modern Millie. His score for this film is the current that pushes the story along. Like so many great composers, he doesn't create music but a character. Everything is different with the right score to back up a great story.A story and a script that Haynes wrote so beautifully. He captured the lingo that kids used in the 50's and gave us a look at how kind people can be and how despicable some are.

The issues that Haynes tackles in the film are still around today, just not taken so seriously. It is hard to think that only 50 years ago, homosexuals were looked at as sick people and the African-American community was still not welcome. To this day there are still hints of this feeling around the country, but most is left to be talked about in the privacy of our own homes.

Whether or not you are straight or gay, black or white, democrat or republican, we all are people. Haynes shows that even if two people are in harmony, it is the outside influences that can rip them apart. Hatred and tolerance cannot coexist.
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breaking free
MitchellXL513 April 2003
While certainly this film is about race and sexual preference, I think its observations are actually much more universal. What it is about - and so many of the movies it references are also about - is how social structures work hard to prevent you from stepping outside your little world. People work hard to control attitudes towards outsiders - in this case, black people and homosexuals - in a negative way that not only keeps them out, but also keeps you in. Many people just don't like it when you seek something from the outside and will be manipulative to keep it so. Witness Patricia Clarkson, who is so manipulative that she has to remind Jualianne Moore how old and dear friends they - oldest and dearest - in such a way that it is a threat more than a comfort. And the film does this within the conventions of the genre it is putting itself in. In many ways, it merely uses the tawdry, cliched imagery of Hollywood soapers in such a way that, if you are not familiar, they may appear to be cliches here. But they are very intentional. And in this way, everything is controlled about the film - reactions, colors, everything. No wonder the characters need to break out of their worlds.
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Welcome Back to the Fifties
lawprof8 November 2002
Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid effectively inhabit their roles in "Far From Heaven," an engrossing flashback to an affluent northeastern suburb, Hartford CT in 1957-8. Quaid is Frank Whitaker, top sales exec in a company meeting the voracious needs of American consumers for the latest in gadgets and appliances. His wife, Cathy, is so much the high profile model for the typical stay-at-home, support your hubby, take care of the kids mom that she is shadowed by the local gossip reporter and her photographer. She thinks she has the perfect marriage and two terrific if not invariably best behaved kids. Both, however, are too interesting to be mistaken as a large screen resurrection of a 50s sitcom couple.

Cathy can't catch the clue when she bails Frank out of the police station and he mutters angrily about the arresting officers mistaking him for a "loiterer." A loiterer in a neat business suit with a topcoat in Hartford? Only one kind of well-dressed character like that attracted police attention in those days.

Dispensing good cheer everywhere, Cathy decides to bring dinner to her hardworking-at-night husband (no spoiler here, every media review has this part). And what should she find? Frank is in the arms of a man, kissing him actually, clothing in disarray.

Today, a presumably straight spouse or lover being gay, secretly, isn't a taboo subject. It was in Cathy and Frank's time and, in fact, no movie from that period would have touched this subject with a ten-foot boom mike. "An Affair to Remember" was risque enough.

Cathy insists Frank get help and James Rebhorn in a brief role as psychiatrist Dr. Bowman explains the most modern therapeutic approaches to "converting" Frank to exclusive heterosexuality. This was in the days when homosexuality was an official diagnosed mental illness.

In what could have been a familiar variation of the white/black awkward beginnings of friendship seen in Sidney Poitier movies but which in this instance has a refreshing originality, Cathy befriends gardener Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert). An attractive and prominent white woman being seen in public with a black man in the South at this time would have led to probably horrific repercussions. Here we get to see 1950s racist northern suburbia, people who decry Arkansas obduracy (there's a brief shot of President Eisenhower on TV announcing the despatch of the 101st Airborne Division to confront the state's mad governor at Little Rock High School) while dispensing their own venom. No guns, no lynchings, no white sheets - just an insidious degradation of blacks, reducing them to actual invisibility when convenient.

The friendship between Cathy and Raymond is at first tentative and it grows with affecting tenderness. So does the shocked anger of the wealthy gaggle in Frank and Cathy's social circle.

Is Frank cured of his "illness?" Does racial tolerance and respect for diversity seep into Hartford's tony neighborhood? Does everyone live happily ever after? Go see the film. The mid-afternoon packed audience in Manhattan's Lincoln Plaza Cinema broke into applause at the end.

Viola Davies turns in a small but critically important role as the Whitaker's maid, Sybil. Fine acting.

Director Todd Haynes allowed Moore and Quaid to make their roles real, involving, and anguished and funny in turn. Both stars deserve Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.

Rooted in the 50s in many ways, composer Elmer Bernstein turned out a good score, original rather than depending on recognizable tunes from the time. But as is so often the case, at points the score is unduly intrusive where the actors' words and expressions convey all that is necessary, music being an annoyance.

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Beautifully well made film is unforgettable thanks to rich performances.
hu67516 October 2005
Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) has it all, a handsome husband (Dennis Quaid), Two wonderful children (Ryan Ward & Lindsay Andretta), a loyal housekeeper (Viola Davis) and her close best friend (Patricia Clarkson). Everything for Cathy goes well until her husband starts questions his own sexually. Things are slowly changing for Cathy, when she meets her new gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Which her Gardener is a nice, caring African American man. Cathy's wonderful life is only an illusion and she forced to live a lie or following her heart.

Written and Directed by Todd Haynes (Poison, Safe, Velvet Goldmine) made an genuinely well done melodrama with plenty of style and substance. Moore gives an beautiful, touching performance. Quaid in his best performance yet, which he's outstanding. Haysbert is terrific as Cathy's Gardener. Excellent production designs, lush cinematography and an beautiful music score are the highlight of this film.

DVD has an sharp anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) transfer and an fine DTS 5.1 Surround Sound (Also in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound). DVD has an featurette, a half-hour "Anatomy of a Scene", an featurette with Julianne Moore & the Director and more. This film was nominated for four Oscars including Best Actress, Best Original Score by the late Elmer Bernstein (Bringing Out the Dead, The Maginificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird), Best Cinematography by Edward Lachman (Less Than Zero, Selena, The Virgin Suicides) and Best Original Screenplay. This film is a must-see. This film is a loving tribute to the 1950's melodrama films. Executive Produced by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven-2001, Out of Sight, Solaris-2002) and George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck, Insomnia-2002). (**** ½/*****).
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Far From Earth
qcompsen29 November 2002
Far From Heaven has been explained as a "woman's film," and a "surefire tear jerker," but in fact it's intended for the kind of woman who would cry at the sight of a washing machine that wobbles a bit during its spin cycle.

Todd Haynes has lovingly perfected the surface of this film with the skill of a master mortician. However, beneath its perfect surface, it's equally dead. All of Haynes' energy has gone towards recreating the details and trappings of a past era of (let's face it) relatively minor film making, and there's no energy left to imbue the characters with power, believability or any trace of interior life. Therefore, Kathleen can utter ridiculous lines some "ice please" after she's just been belted by her husband and, without losing her pasted-on smile for a second, can make chirpy little jokes about her husband's disgustingly ugly drunken behavior at the party that she has spent most of the film (and perhaps most of her life) planning. As game as Moore's acting is, her character is like a windup doll.

Quaid's part is even worse. Although I like him as an actor, he has no clue how to portray the inner conflict of a gay man trapped in a suburban marriage, trapped in the 1950's. For someone who feels "despicable," he somehow has no difficulty ogling a cute blond kid in full public view -- in front of both his own wife and the kid's parents. And though he's already been caught by both the police and his wife in flagrante delicto, he has no problem getting it on with the blond boy in his hotel room while his wife reads Cosmo by the poolside (we don't see this happen, but it's clearly implied). This is simply ridiculous.

Dennis Haysbert's character is forced (by the script) into similarly disingenuous behavior. We're expected to believe that he's a Miro scholar/botanist/MBA and man about about town, yet he somehow thinks he could bring a whiter-than-white upper class woman into a "negro" blues bar and the patrons would be "really friendly"? And he's surprised when his fellow Blacks shower him with the same one-dimensional hatred that all of Kathleen's friends shower upon her?

Haynes seems to view the 50's as if they occurred 1000 years ago; the characters seem not so much as from a different time as from a different species. The result: a potential story of tremendous personal conflict and suffering ends up a curiously uninvolving pastiche, although one in Amazing Living Technicolor. This is perhaps the only film ever made in which the leaves are more alive than the characters.
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Heaven can grate
majikstl1 March 2004
FAR FROM HEAVEN is like a long, elaborate joke that seems to build and build to a punchline that never comes. As it goes along, you patiently wait for it to have a point, your interest ebbs and flows, but it is fanciful enough that you stick it out to the end, only to discover that it was not a joke and was never intended be. And you're left confused, embarrassed and more than little bit irritated.

FAR FROM HEAVEN is a detailed recreation of a very specific type of drama from the 1950's: a high-gloss, emotion-on-the-sleeve "women's picture" wherein everything has the rich Technicolor tone of an ad for refrigerators or hair care products from out of the pages of LIFE, LOOK or the Ladies' Home Journal of that era. Yet, this studied look of perfection is undercut with a melodramatic angst of social disorder and class dysfunction. It was high class soap opera and it's chief practitioner was Douglas Sirk, though he had his imitators.

This sort of pastiche of cinematic artificial perfection died even before the beginning of the sixties and took on a dinosaur like quality with the advent of the French New Wave, social unrest and the long overdue death of the production code. Therefore, when director Todd Haynes serves up this painstaking recreation of this antique genre, one has the right to be suspicious; Hollywood usually only visits it's past for the purpose of parody, think MOVIE MOVIE or YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The film is so straightfaced in its recreation of the genre -- lush, melodramatic music, heightened emotional line readings, etc. -- that one assumes that Haynes has his tongue firmly in his cheek. But he doesn't; he genuinely wants to explore how this type of 50's film with would have dealt with the issues of interracial romance and homosexuality had the times permitted those themes to be openly explored way back when.

This leads to one simple question: Why? If you take a very real situation and set in down in a very fake setting, it doesn't make the real situation feel even more real; it makes the situation seem fake as well. And therein lies the problem with FAR FROM HEAVEN: instead of being an honest exploration of the themes of bigotry and homophobia, it only seems to trivializes it's own intentions, without even a fig leaf of satire to disguise it's failure.

Julianne Moore is charming in the lead role, but you have to be willing to accept the idea that she is sophisticated enough to understand her husband's closet homosexuality on one hand, yet be so naive that she doesn't realize that running around town and socializing with a black man is a no-no, even in the relatively liberal setting of suburban Connecticut. And her stylized suffering seems as artificial as the picture perfect set design and lush background score.

FAR FROM HEAVEN can be appreciated as a wonderful, if utterly hollow, exercise in style, but as an exploration of social mores of the 1950s -- or of contemporary standards -- it is far from heavenly.
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So little to say
engelst23 May 2003
This is a question of taste. What I dislike in Far from Heaven is that it tries to catch a certain atmosphere by dwelling lovingly on details such as the cars of the fifties, the furniture, the trite cocktail parties (I thought we all decided we didn't need that anymore)..

Far from Heaven is about sensibility, about freedom. But why choose to celebrate an era that choked people to death and place in it characters so much lacking in expression, characters so far from what the director intended them to be? There is no freedom or even sensibility here to be experienced in the first degree.

The freedom I see in Far from heaven is the freedom of a director given almost carte blanche to wallow in detailed interior decoration, and the freedom to remake a very elaborate 50's postcard. Apparently the director thought this would be enough.

The sensibility is invested in over-emphasized 50's interiors. The obsession with form is too much for my taste, although I must admit this is one of the most detailed 50's environments I ever saw in a movie.

The questions that are raised by the dramatic events in the film are all avoided. The relationships are superficial and I found myself regularly wondering about the motives of different characters.

Take Frank Whitaker for example. He is a strange mixture of the painful search for sexual identity, total inability to express himself (in spite of the fact that he clearly has been a latent homosexual for a long time), a consequent rigidity towards his children and wife and then the ability to quickly and instinctively initiate sexual and emotional liaisons with other men. He also is quite violent.

Considering this is supposed to be a man with a whole gambit of emotions and a lifelong experience with playing something he isn't, he is seriously lacking in means to express himself and also quite poor in variety of emotions. In other words, the character set down by Dennis Quaid is much too colorless to be believed.

The same can be said of Mrs. Whitaker, who is so naive as to make you mad. It is really too much to swallow. This woman just stands with a wide-eyed smile, looking on while her pretty home is destroyed by a husband that has nothing to say to her, except smack her in the face ("he didn't mean to..."). Oh come on.

The blacks in the movie are nothing more than shameless Uncle Tom cardboard stand-ins. After Monster's Ball, this is another movie that is insensitive not so much in what it has to say but more in what it leaves out. Isn't refusal to depict human drama in anything other than gross simplification the same as refusal to acknowledge?

In my opinion this movie is at best immature. It is a two hour long demonstration of the art of building beautiful sets.
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Far From Deep
jdeck0226 June 2003
If Todd Haynes intention was to lull us to sleep with the shallowness, closemindeness and already well documented mores of the fifties he succeeded. I for one can take only so much beautiful scenery before I start to get irritated from the LACK of a REAL story and "unstaged" acting. From all the hype of this film and hearing that Todd Haynes was a genius I really was expecting a lot more than a animated Norman Rockwell Painting. Really, Todd, you have a great future as a designer or landscape architect, but PLEASE no more movies like this. Nolie from South Africa said it much better in His/Her review a few days back "exquisite to look at but more than a little flat" and "stolid affected version of Pleasantville for the faux Hollywood cineast crowd, people in love with themselves as much as the film makers are in love with their product" I grew up in the fifties and their was more REAL drama going on in my neighborhood and in the lives of my family and my neighbors in a single afternoon than in the entirety of this "FILM".
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Revisiting FAR FROM HEAVEN: Reprise
gradyharp15 October 2010
There are times when watching a film from the past serves as a reminder of just how fine that film is despite the presence of similar films made after the theater run of the film in question. Such is most assuredly the case with FAR FROM HEAVEN, a very important film that addresses racial and sexual prejudices from as recently as 1958, a time when many of us were oblivious to what was happening in the tough world outside our insulated arena. Todd Haynes both wrote and directed this study of the cruelty of prejudice in a manner that is disconcertingly sterile on the surface - a surface that the period of the 1950s cloaked everything with that should have been matters of intense public discussion and correction.

Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore in a radiant, profoundly sensitive performance) is the picture perfect, carefully groomed, crinolined wife of successful Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid), mother of two just right children, and plastic hostess for parties that include her proper friends - such as Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson). Frank drinks too much, makes a few public scenes and it is apparent he is dealing with his private very secret demons: Frank is trying to live a perfect married life but his true physical desires are for men. Cathy copes, confides in her 'colored' gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) and her 'colored' maid Sybil (Viola Davis). Cathy's friendship with Raymond, utterly innocent though it is, is the cause of immediate racial hysteria in the community of Hartford, Connecticut. Frank is having an affair with a man, Cathy discovers this and tries her best to understand, but when Frank comes home intoxicated and threatens Cathy about HER 'affair' with Raymond, the perfect bubble of this plastic marriage bursts. Cathy turns to Raymond for solace but both understand they are living in a time when they cannot be friends because of the racial difference: the core of their relationship is as pure a respectful and honest love as any Cathy has ever experienced. Frank finally confesses his homosexuality to Cathy, they decide to divorce, and Frank goes off to his lover, while Cathy finds some measure of solace in Raymond's honest friendship.

The period of the 1950s is crisply captured not only in the settings and clothes and cars, but also in the phrases of language used during that time: the script is on target. So much has happened since the time of the story of this film - Martin Luther King, Jr's 'We shall overcome' and the changes that started at Stonewall, both only ten years later - and yet we still suffer from the effects of unfounded, cruel prejudice on many levels. Films like FAR FROM HEAVEN should be seen frequently to 1) see how far we have come and 2) see how much further we have to go.

Grady Harp
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An Exercise in Style
noilie12 June 2003
This is another contemplative, middle-America persona-driven film film for Julianne Moore. Judging from all the hype, I'm sure that I do not have to expound on the facts of the case.

There can be little doubt that Moore is at the top of her form, she is positively luminous on screen. Tod Haynes directs precisely, though with all the zeal of a put upon carry donkey. The cast is fine. The film unfortunately comes off more than a little flat. It is exquisite to look at but this alone is not enough to carry a feature film for 2+ hours, even when coupled with Moore's benign megawatt presence. The film is another one of those overtly revisionist, post modern tracts: a film in subjunction, a complicated lie. It stretches one threadbare premise over two hours with little reward for even the most patient of viewers.

Comes off like a stolid, affected version of 'Pleasantville' for the faux Hollywood cineast crowd, people in love with themselves as much as the film makers are in love with their product. Ranks alongside Moore's other critical success 'The Hours', both films feel stagy and aloof, although 'Far From Heaven' is at least more bearable in that it doesn't try to test our patience with the overwrought histrionics of three generations of priviledged white women.

** (out of *****)
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Overrated Claptrap
tjpmkp10 January 2003
I agree with all those who have panned this movie. Because the characters were so cartoonish, I felt no sympathy for them whatsoever. Yes, I guess the 1950's sets were interesting and picture perfect, but the whole effect left me cold.

I also felt the acting was just serviceable. While Julianne Moore was totally fine, I don't see why so much praise is being heaped on her. I could picture many actresses who could have played that role just as effectively.

It was boring, one dimensional and had trite dialogue. Look for it to sweep the Oscar's.
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stinky but beautifully shot
lizerooh25 October 2003
This is without a doubt, one of the most disappointing movies I have ever seen. I had high hopes for it based on the cast and the Oscar buzz it received. It was indeed beautifully shot and the set dressing was perfection. However, that was as deep as the movie got. It was as superficial and stilted as a 50's commercial endorsement. Are we actually supposed to buy that people spoke and behaved in this mannequin-like manner, simply because that was what the era "dictated"? So much could have been really done with this subject and nothing was. A real pity.
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Boring, dull, vacuous, showed no insights
mikek-68 March 2003
The reviewers had written very positively about this film so I went with high hopes. Possibly too high, particularly when Hollywood is producing poor quality films aimed simply at getting butts on seats. So this is supposed to be a return to quality stuff is it ? Sure it had lovely sets, costume, shots but where were the real characters ? Where were the insights into human behaviour ? It brought nothing new to me at all and I couldn't fathom what it was saying at all. Simply because it was saying nothing. All the characters was far too simple as were the scenes, dialogue and structure. And don't start lecturing me that this is how it was in the 50's. I grew up in that decade and saw films like 'Look Back in Anger', 'On the Waterfront' and 'Rear Window'. Surely what was needed was to bring more characterisation and development of the story, not less. Heaven help us all if this is seen as Hollywood getting serious.
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Funniest Carol Burnett skit ever!
maxmik4 April 2003
This is a very long Carol Burnett skit with Carol playing the role of Cathy an uptight 50's housewife who discovers that her husband Frank played by Tim Conway is a little light in the loafers. Soon Cathy finds comfort in the arms of her Negro handyman played by Harvey Korman. At first Cathy is spooked to find a Negro in her garden - in fact she is surprised at least THREE times to find a Negro in her garden. On a vacation in Miami - Frank falls head over heals for a pool boy played by Lyle Waggoner. Vicki Lawrence plays Eleanor - Cathy's nosy best friend. The laughs come hard and fast as Cathy and Frank struggle to make sense of their soap opera lives.
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ridiculous portrayal of live in N.E. in 50's
babs724 May 2003
After watching this last night on pay per view I thought that director never talked to anyone who LIVED thru the 50's. We did not glide around the town in lovely dresses , our children did not obey us every minute, and MOST OF ALL the Director had to be thinkiing of a Southern state and not Connecticut. We lived in Massachusetts and saw none of the discrimination of blacks which is portrayed in the movie. In fact, in my graduating class ('51) we elected a black as our Class President. NOT because it was a PC thing to do, but because he was very friendly and people liked him.

As for Julianne Moore getting the Oscar - if simpering and being sticky sweet could win it than she certainly will! PLEASE!
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Imitation of an Imitation
B2424 January 2005
I knew I was in trouble when I saw those rear fender skirts on the 1955 Buick Special Estate Wagon in the opening scene. This languid, heavy melodrama began to get on my nerves at once. As a re-creation of a style of film-making that relied on imitating what was already a tendentious imitation in its own time, this is what the cliché "trainwreck in slow motion" is all about. Lovely and beautiful in its own way, it nevertheless comes across for anyone over the age of fifty more as a curiosity than a work of art.

Melodrama relies greatly on self-reference, and this one has it in spades (Oops!). Everything is so obvious and banal to those of us who lived through the time in question that we can only laugh at Director Haynes as he waxes ecstatic about how marvelous and evocative of the 1950's were those old films of Director Sirk. The irony of his comments in the DVD package I viewed -- as images of old Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman movies played across the screen -- was entirely lost. Background scenes of the Little Rock episode in 1957 are displayed not as actual advances in human awareness affecting decades of a real social struggle, but as quirky takes on some notion that the 1950's exists only in a time warp. Stereotypes of stereotypes.

Julianne Moore floats grandly through her role, as always. And Quaid is predictably stolid -- no Rock Hudson, he. The rest of the cast speak their lines equally tongue-in-cheek, and New Jersey posing as Connecticut in Autumn (or is it Spring?) passes.

Seriously, I never saw in real life ANY Buick with fender skirts.
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Transmits its message about ignorance very clearly, but it is still surface-pretty and shallow
moonspinner5513 December 2002
Well-acted, but ultimately disappointing examination of morals in the 1950s, with a prominent married society couple torn apart by his need to cheat on her (with men) and her friendship with their black gardener. The scenes between Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert (as the handsome groundskeeper) are wonderfully captured, moving and lovely--everything the scenes with Dennis Quaid are not. Quaid is not a bad actor, nor is he miscast here, but I do think his role is somewhat contemptible. The husband is shown not only to be a closet-case, but an obnoxious liar and alcoholic--weak and crippling. His relationships with two other men in the film are barely touched upon. Is there some kind of movie-law against showing what is so attractive about two men in lust? True, when the guys kissed, a teenage girl in the row behind me called out, "That's gross!" (making me wonder why some people even venture out of the house), but I do wish we might have gotten to see different sides to the husband; as it is, he's just a closet jerk, and an anchor on this story. **1/2 from ****
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too little too late
rsternesq25 December 2007
Awful attempt at displaying courage that in fact demonstrates a complete absence of courage or even common sense. Had this movie been made thirty years ago, it might -- just might -- have been meaningful. This is yet another self-satisfied example of Hollywood fighting yesterday's battles. Compare with Gentlemen's Agreement and weep. At the very least a little irony might have helped but no, this movie is playing it straight (forgive the pun), thereby demonstrating a tin ear and worse. How can anyone say this message needed saying this way when the real battle to get this message out was fought and won a generation ago? By the way, I do remember the time in which this drivel is placed and the visuals do not work even on that level. A 21st century sensibility pervades it all, even the cartoon colors are wrong. Not even close to the 1950's or any other time.
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Far from watchable
nickersby23 April 2003
Warning, this review contains ***NO SPOILERS*** because this film contains ***NO PLOT***. The film is aptly named - nothing this bad would get through the pearly gates. It starts off like a Channel 5 daytime TV movie, and goes downhill from there.

It looks awful, the 1950s sets looking like, well, 1950s sets. And did no-one in 1950s America drive a dirty car? The dialogue and acting are terrible. The cliches come thick and fast (my little joke), and you can pass the time quicker by playing 'guess the next line'. Particular mention must be given to the son of the family, who you will want to slap every time he comes out with a 'Gee, Pop's home!' or 'Aw shucks!'.

Issues of race and homophobia are dealt with as thoroughly as they would have been in a 1950s B movie. Or is that the point? Is this film supposed to be a pastiche. If so, why bother. There are surely enough genuine bad films from this period without dumping this on us.

Do not see this film. It's bad. Really, really bad. If you have to see it, take my advice and sit on the end seat so you can leave without waking anyone else up. And you will want to leave.
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"Lifetime: Television For Women"
bgbattles14 April 2003
In a nutshell: A predictable, cliched, seen-it-all-before, made-for-TV yawn festival. Replace Dennis Quaid with Harry Hamlin and Julianne Moore with Merideth Baxter-Bernie (sp?), and you've got "Lifetime: Television For Women."
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