Reese Witherspoon, Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Pleasantville. It's just around the corner.
A stellar ensemble cast turns writer/director Gary Ross's "Pleasantville" into a film that transcends its surface easygoing nature by presenting a film with outstanding performance, beautiful visuals and deep insights into communities and the individuals who dwell within them.
Starring Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as a 90's brother/sister who find themselves stuck inside a 1950's style television show along the lines of Ozzie and Harriet, "Pleasantville" goes much deeper than it first appears. Yet, in many ways, the performances seem so effortless that it is easy to take the entire film for granted as a piece of pleasant looking fluff. That would be a huge mistake as "Pleasantville" is so much more.
As the brother and sister, Maguire and Witherspoon are simply marvelous with a solid, sibling like chemistry. Maguire, seemingly forever typecast as the good guy, plays the more withdrawn, pleasant but happy watching his favorite TV show ("Pleasantville") while his sister is more outgoing, social and enjoys pushing boundaries. An argument over which show to watch leads to an intervention by a TV repairman with a special remote (the repairman is played by Don Knotts).
What follows is a film that is truly beautiful to the eye and yet filled with deeper statements about our society, about the way we view each other and ourselves, about fear and oppression and the evolution and de-evolution of society as a whole. The wonderful thing about Ross's "Pleasantville" is that Ross doesn't necessarily decide for his viewers the "right" way to think...there is a balance here that shows the pros and the cons of the 50s and the 90s...and the balance may be in celebrating the journey but not being so damn afraid of it and of each other.
Maguire and Witherspoon's parents in the film, played by the incomparable William H. Macy and Joan Allen, are also stellar in their roles. Allen, in particular, takes an extremely challenging role and, well for lack of a better phrase, brings tremendous color to it. Allen's transformation as she surrenders to her own thoughts and feelings and dreams is mesmerizing to behold. Likewise, Macy, in a role filled with much fear of change, is simply wonderful as a father who TRULY does love his family and yet is remarkably afraid of what that may mean.
There are several strong supporting performances, but perhaps none as strong as that of Jeff Daniels. Daniels, in my estimation a tremendously underrated actor, is wonderful here as a man who discovers his own color and then shares this openly against tremendous resistance.
The film's cinematography is exceptional with a perfect blend of color, especially as characters begin to transition in and out of feelings and risking and letting go and growing. Wisely, the adding and subtracting of color is done with great subtlety that perfectly represents the characters as they change.
An outstanding score by Randy Newman along with exceptional production design complement the film and its script perfectly.
"Pleasantville" has endured as one of my favorite films for many reasons, but mostly because it is a reminder to me that the changes I wish to see in society I must first make within myself.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic