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Far From heaven

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Far From heaven

Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid
Director: Todd Haynes
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: November 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Dennis Haysbert, James Rebhorn

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

It was a time when homosexuality was considered a treatable illness and gay bars were anything but "gay." It was a time when white liberals bragged in public to Negroes about their lack of prejudice and a time when "Geez!" was considered an expletive that mothers wouldn't tolerate from their children. In short, it was 1957.

As writer/director Todd Haynes proved in his last picture, VELVET GOLDMINE, he is a great visual stylist. In FAR FROM HEAVEN, with the stunning work of cinematographer Edward Lachman, composer Elmer Bernstein and set designer Mark Friedberg, the movie beautifully reconstructs not only the look but also the feel of a 1950s drama. The picture's colorful lushness lets the film's controversies go down easy like sweet flavor in medicine. The oblique approach to difficult subject matter is exactly how an old movie would have had to deal with homosexuality and racial prejudice. The suburban lifestyle in the movie will immediately remind you of THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT from 1956. The gorgeous cars in the picture look straight off of the showroom floor.

The story concerns an all-American family whose breadwinner, Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid), is a hot-shot sales executive at Magnatech, which appears to be a twist on the word Magnavox. A hard-driving alcoholic, Frank becomes increasingly awkward, embarrassed and frightened after his wife discovers him in flagrante with another man. Although he promptly signs up for "heterosexual conversion therapy" to cure his "sickness," he doesn't appear confident that he is fixable.

Frank's wife, Cathy, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore, stands by her man. She stays perky and upbeat, even when the warning signs are patently obvious. This is understandable since she is a social butterfly who has just been featured in the local newspaper. The fluff piece about her calls her, "a woman as devoted to her family as she is kind to Negroes." Since the movie is set in the North, the white town leaders assume themselves and their town to be lacking in both prejudice and blacks. This is especially ironic since black servants are everywhere and completely ignored. Ignored, that is, until Cathy dares strike up an innocent and casual friendship with one, which scandalizes the city.

Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), Cathy's gardener, is the unlucky man to have her brief attention. This causes him no end of grief from both white and black members of the community.

Sometimes it is in the smallest incidents that a movie says the most. In FAR FROM HEAVEN, it comes when solicitors appear on Cathy's doorstep. They are eager young volunteers from the NAACP looking to sign up new recruits. Cathy, who loves to champion liberal causes, knows right away that she wants to join. Since she is too busy, however, to be bothered with signing her name, she calls out to her full-time black maid so that she can come and sign Cathy's name for her. A very telling moment.

FAR FROM HEAVEN runs 1:47. It is rated PG-13 for "mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and language" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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