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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Pleasantville

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels
Director: Gary Ross
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 116 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J.T. Walsh, Reese Witherspoon, Don Knotts, Jane Kaczmarek

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

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 will.

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 review.

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

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