Pleasantville

Jen: "We're supposed to be at home, David. We're supposed to be in color."

A long time ago when I still liked Reese Witherspoon, I was bowled over by Pleasantville. It's still one of my absolute favorite fantasy movies. The first part of the movie is hilarious and original, while the second part explores some pretty serious topics and goes in unexpected directions. I've often wondered why it didn't do better with audiences and critics than it did. Was it just supposed to stay funny, perhaps? Was it just too different? I think many people wanted it to be either more or less than it was.

Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play David and Jen, siblings who become trapped in an alternate reality: the black and white world of a 1958 situation comedy called "Pleasantville." Although David tries to conform to the reality of a place where Father always knows best and nothing ever goes truly wrong, Jen immediately begins making ripples by introducing the residents of Pleasantville to two things they know nothing about: sex and books.

As the black and white two dimensional characters begin to learn about the real world (moving in a metaphorical sense from the 1950s to the late 1960s), their changes are physically illustrated by color, which symbolizes knowledge. The way the town rejects people of "color" is an echo of prejudice and segregation, even though everyone in the movie is white.

But what I love most is the books. When Jen and David arrive in Pleasantville, all of the books are blank. When David tells the fictional characters what is actually in one of the books (probably my favorite scene), the pages start to magically fill in. People start reading. There is suddenly a run on the library, quickly followed by a book burning. (Nearly every book mentioned in this movie was once a banned book, like Huckleberry Finn and Lady Chatterley's Lover.) The mural that Jeff Daniels' character creates on a wall has burning books floating into the sky. New ideas are dangerous. Change is dangerous. But the end of innocence, change, brings rewards as well.

The color that slowly creeps into the story is just stunning. This movie has the most imaginative use of color I have seen in any film, ever. I was particularly blown away by David and his date driving up to Lovers Lane; there are showers of rose petals right before an explosion of color in the scenery. I remember the first time I saw it, I got chills down my spine. You know, those chills you get when you see something very, very special. Maybe the impact is much less on television, but in the theater, it was spectacular.

Just as an aside, this movie also featured several extras and bit parts played by several actors who have been on my favorite show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Danny Strong has two lines. Marc Blucas is seen, but not heard. We can also see Jason Behr from "Lie to Me" in one scene, and the Tupperware lady from "Dead Man's Party" in another.

I love this movie. It's a personal favorite. Four out of four stars,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

Aine and Erika said...

I know! I love! I was excited to see Maggie Lawson from Psych in it.

Juliette said...

I'd missed this review somehow! I love this film so much. Several of the scenes with the art book and the mural make me cry :)

Josie Kafka said...

I saw this years ago, but finally got a chance to watch it again. (As of June 2016 it's streaming on Netflix.)

It was even better than I remembered, although Reese Witherspoon's character feels a bit tacked-on: she doesn't interact with many of the main characters, and almost disappears in the second half of the film, which was odd.

The scene with the petals, and the scene with the books, really blew me away. I'm so impressed by how beautiful this movie is, even almost 20 years later.