Film Review Hotline

FILM OF THE MONTH

Selected from the April 1999 Film Review

Pleasantville
PLEASANTVILLE5 Stars

If we could have given this film six stars, we would!

Also from this issue: our review of PAYBACK
STARS: Joan Allen, William H Macey, Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, JT Walsh
DIRECTOR: Gary RossSCREENPLAY: Gary Ross
CERTIFICATE: PGDISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 2hrs 04minsOPENING DATE (UK): March 12

The Colour of Magic

A wondrous blend of Frank Capra-esque warmth and ingenious digital wizardry, Pleasantville is – forgive the cliché – the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. Except they have, and it’s as beguilingly original and downright heartbreaking as films get.

Maguire is David, a shy ’90s teenager who adores a cheesy black and white sitcom called Pleasantville – whose guileless citizens live happy but meaningless existences, without carnal pleasure, art, literature or even bad weather. David’s tramp of a sister Jennifer (Witherspoon) has her head firmly rooted in the present and doesn’t get her brother’s fascination with their naive, white picket fence existence.

An argument over TV viewing leads to the destruction of their remote control, but a mysterious repair man (veteran Don Knotts) offers them a suspicious looking replacement. He somehow fails to mention that using it will transport the pair into the Pleasantville universe in the place of the wholesome Parker kids.

It’s initially an entertaining fish-out-of-water comedy in the mould of Back to the Future, with David finding that his encyclopediac knowledge of this ‘perfect’ town helps him to easily assume his new identity. But Jennifer finds her new life one long yawn, only brightened up by seducing the town’s virginal hunk. As the two teens start to introduce the townsfolk to undreamed of experiences (like independent thought), so the town gradually starts to literally burst into colour and the film takes on a completely unexpected emotional resonance – embodied by the pair’s repressed housewife mother Betty (Allen) and diner chef Mr Johnson (Daniels), who begin to want more from their lives.

An utterly beguiling movie, ingeniously plotted and brilliantly acted by all, especially Allen, whose utter bewilderment over her new-found feelings and technicolour appearance is desperately moving. Screenwriter Ross, (who also scripted Big and Dave) makes an ambitious and assured directorial début, often using a gorgeous contrast of vibrant and mute tones within the same shot.

But his film doesn’t just lie back and rely on sheer originality or visual appeal alone. There’s an extraordinary amount of depth here, as many of the townspeople struggle to come to terms with desiring control over their own destiny. Or fearing it. The latter stages of the movie even draw unsettling parallels with Nazism as ‘colours’ are persecuted by those who still remain in monochrome.

My favourite film of the year so far, you won’t forget your visit to Pleasantville for quite some time.

Jason Caro

Pleasantville photo copyright Entertainment
Read our massive new reviews section in this month's Film Review
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THE THIN RED LINE Mar 5
ARLINGTON ROAD Mar 19
AMERICAN HISTORY X Mar 26
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NIAGARA NIAGARA Mar 12
APRILE (APRIL)Mar 19

SEUL CONTRE TOUS (I STAND ALONE) Mar 19
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG Mar 26
THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS Mar 5
PAYBACK Mar 26
WAKING NED Mar 19