Folks who lived through the 1950's certainly remember much of the purity
that decade had. Mom vacuumed in pearls and baked cookies with her good
dress and kitchen apron attached. Dad wore the same suit to work
everyday and left the house each morning and returned each evening with
the same greeting to his family. The kids were raised wholesome with
good breakfasts made by mom. Girls wore skirts and dresses down to
their ankles and boys were clean cut as everything was squeaky clean.
Utopia to some but secret repression to others. The open minded and
diverse approach to life is the difference between colour and black and
white in 'Pleasantville'.
Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are two teenagers made in the 90's.
Halter tops for the girls, baggy pants for the boys, body piercing,
sexual appetites fulfilled and a teenager's life is complete? Notice
the question mark. Maguire's character is a big fan of a black and
white television sitcom from the 50's called 'Pleasantville'. In the
tradition of 'Father Knows Best' and 'The Andy Griffith Show',
'Pleasantville' is the all American image of a decade gone forever.
While 60's, 70's and even some 80's type culture has come back to
society in the 90's, culture of the 50's has not and probably never
Children of divorced parents, Maguire and Witherspoon argue one evening
after mom leaves to spend the weekend with her boyfriend. Maguire wants
to watch a 'Pleasantville' marathon on television while Witherspoon
desires a rock concert on television with her boyfriend who is coming
over shortly. During the argument, they break the television remote
control. A few moments later, a mysterious t.v. repair man (Don Knotts)
pays a visit to the house and gives the kids what looks like an antique
remote control. Knotts is fascinated by the fact that Maguire is a big
fan of 'Pleasantville' and after he leaves, the kids struggle with the
new remote and get sucked into a black and white fantasy world inside
their television. They are now a part of the town of Pleasantville.
Their new family is a complete shock to them. Mom (Joan Allen) and dad
(William H. Macy) are stereotypes of the 50's described earlier in the
The other folks in the town who are major players in the film are a cafe
employee played by Jeff Daniels who is an aspiring painter and the
town's mayor, J.T. Walsh and this is Walsh's last film since he passed
away earlier in 1998 from a heart attack.
As the film progresses, the kids from the 90's bring their personal
lifestyles to their new fantasy life and slowly things around them turn
to colour. Some of the town's folks like it and others don't. A town
council meeting is called to look into whether or not the new colourful
life brought to Pleasantville can be considered criminal activity. A
metaphor for the McCarthy hearings, no doubt.
'Pleasantville' is written and directed by Gary Ross who was involved in
creating film pleasures such as 1988's 'Big' and 1993's 'Dave'. Ross
has found a new direction in film that works on many levels but he does
fails to create any real edge. The film is emotionally satisfying but
lacks excitement, however it compensates for it with excellent
performances from the actors, some of whom have their characters
experience an emotional metamorphosis.
Just to be clear, movies have to get at least three and a half stars out
of five for me to recommend them and 'Pleasantville' is an original
piece of movie entertainment that is far from being a masterpiece but it
may go down as a mild film classic but that will depend on society's
intention to grasp and accept a cultural giant from the past. The
question is "Will they or won't they?"
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith