Winner of several American critics awards and thrumming with Oscar vibes, Todd Haynes' reconstruction of the '50s melodrama is widely revered. Which is to say, it's widely overrated.
Taking its prime inspiration from Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, this 1957-set drama revolves around the Whitakers. Ostensibly a perfect family, they're torn apart when mom Cathy (Julianne Moore) discovers pa Frank (Dennis Quaid) is acting a little queer. She seeks solace in the company of black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), their blossoming friendship setting tongues a-wagging.
Technically, Haynes' movie is superlative, faultlessly replicating Sirk's palette - - the lush, emotive scores of the time and the misty dissolves and careful pacing that constituted the melodrama's grammar. The only difference is that Haynes can now show what Sirk could only hint at, meaning we get to see Frank kissing his boyfriend, viciously slapping his wife and, in one unforgettable moment, screaming, ""Fuck!""
But here's the pertinent poser: why? An experiment akin to Gus Van Sant's bizarre decision to xerox Psycho, it rejects any filmgoer unfamiliar with Sirk's work. Get the homage and you'll admire this as a work of (photocopied) art; watch it in isolation and it's a curious, unengaging oddity.
Strangely, though, even those `in' on this po-faced venture have failed to spot inconsistencies. For while Moore is magnificent as the apple-pie mom, Quaid is too edgy and Haysbert too naturalistic to match the mannered acting going on around them.
If Haynes is so intent on slavishly adhering to the template, then he shouldn't tweak the format as his fancy takes him.
The arthouse Pleasantville, this handsomely crafted facsimile of '50s melodrama is unengaging and redundant, the lacquered artifice erecting a barrier between screen and audience.
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