Volume 92, Issue 29
Tuesday, October 27, 1998
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Pleasantville goes a touch blush
Photo by Ralph Nelson
By Christina Vardanis
Viewers of director Gary Ross' new dramatic comedy, Pleasantville, should be armed with the appropriate protective headgear.
The story is sweet, the cast is phenomenal, but the point is blatantly, ruthlessly beat into the spectators' head again and again. While the film is sincere in its message and creative in its delivery, there's something to be said for subtlety.
Tobey Maguire (The Ice Storm) and Reese Witherspoon (Fear) star as David and Jennifer, two teenage siblings from a broken home. David is the geek and a loner, obsessed with watching reruns of the '50s sitcom, Pleasantville. Jennifer is the popular one, obsessed with boys, fashion and denying any relation to David.
One fateful evening, the two are transported into the black and white TV world of Pleasantville, where everything is just that. Not wonderful, not exciting, not passionate, just pleasant. There's no grey area here, only black and white.
It doesn't take long before the inhabitants of Pleasantville have their eyes opened to a world of real emotion. Jennifer shows the other kids there's more to "lover's lane" than holding hands, while David introduces the locals to cubism and Huck Finn. However, they are also quick to find human elation goes hand in hand with human destruction. Soon the town is torn apart by those wanting their black and white world back the way it was and those enjoying the new enlightenment.
The cast of the film, however, is far from average. Maguire and Witherspoon are big-screen babies compared to their co-stars, but they carry the film and its heartfelt theme confidently on their shoulders. Joan Allen (Face-Off) and William H. Macy (Fargo) play the sitcom parents and document a complete transformation from rigidity to vulnerability. The high point is a hilarious Don Knotts (Three's Company) cameo as the TV repair man responsible for the transport into TV land.
Stylistically, this film is brilliant. Spot colour is used to identify those in Pleasantville who have allowed themselves to feel emotion, realize inner beauty and discover personal strength. While the technical idea is genius, the fault lies in its application.
Instead of subtle, gentle attempts at symbolism, Ross goes overboard with his use of colour as a metaphor for discrimination. It is thematically an over-the-top To Kill a Mockingbird and not a very successful one.
The whole point of using symbolism in a movie is to enlighten the viewer with gentle, subtle hints from which they can extract the bigger picture. A successful use leaves the movie patron enriched by their own thoughts and deductions. But a poor application leaves the viewer a victim of a condescending lecture.
Unfortunately, Pleasantville follows the latter route, sacrificing its message for too much of a good thing.
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