With part of the town "colored" as their newly impassioned selves, those who resent change remain colorless, mired in conformity.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Pleasantville is a beautifully imagined movie about the struggle between self-realization and conformity. The story moves lightheartedly between snippets of fifties reality and the idealized TV shows that caught the currents of the time while ignoring its problems.

David (Tobey Maguire) carries in his head a massive database of the details of a fifties TV series called "Pleasantville." He has soaked up the details by watching reruns while lounging in adolescent lethargy and contemplating a world far more to his liking than the one he has. While his equally adolescent divorced mother talks on the phone about her new boyfriend with rank self-absorption, newsbreaks deliver bleak pictures of nineties reality-famine, flood, global warming, unemployment, AIDS. What's to like in today's world?

A magical remote, courtesy of a TV repairman (Don Knotts), dispatches David and his twin sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), through the screen to Pleasantville. Armed with historical perspective, Jennifer and David slip seamlessly into the bodies of their fifties counterparts, Bud and Mary Sue, only to be confounded by the emotional repression that surrounds them.

Mom is the idealized essence of the fifties mother. Wearing the frozen smile of maternal pleasure, she prepares eggs, bacon, waffles, sausage, and ham steak-"You need a hot breakfast inside you." Milk comes in glass bottles. Firemen save cats from trees. There are no fires in Pleasantville.

Wearing "three pounds of underwear," a poodle skirt and sweater set, Jen sets about educating a populace rooted in routine and order. As she plants the seeds of pleasure, the black and white characters turn slowly to color. After backseat sex, the basketball player sees a red rose. On Lovers' Lane, blossoms turn pink. A rosy blush, which she hides with makeup, spreads slowly across Mom's cheek. Bill, the colorless owner of the soda shop, paints in brilliant abstract color. There's a price to be paid for this frivolity. With part of the town "colored" as their newly impassioned selves, those who resent change remain colorless, mired in conformity.

Tobey Maguire gives a wise, tender performance as the son who instinctively understands the consequences of emotional change. Reese Witherspoon is great fun as the impatient daughter determined to blast Pleasantville from repression.

William H. Macy reminds us effectively that the father, whose "Honey, I'm home!" draws such disbelieving laughter from young people in the audience, is announcing the arrival his entire family's reason for being. Jeff Daniels's transformation from orderly clerk to passionate painter is touching, and Joan Allen makes the transition from inhibition to joy a gentle, nuanced process.

Because this is a TV show, there are no words in books, no rain to dampen the perfection. But as David and Jen spread permission to the citizenry to enjoy the happiness they find in themselves, the blanks are filled. A revelation is offered for the nineties: it becomes easy to imagine those who resist change as colorless and those who allow themselves to love it as a blaze of color.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : New Line Cinema
Rating : PG-13
Running time: 2h4m

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