I know you want it to stay pleasant around here, but there are so many things that are so much better. Like silly, or sexy, or dangerous, or brief. And every one of those things is in you all the time, if you just have the guts to look for them.
“Danny Elfman and I were collaborating on it, and we were working with Arcade Fire. We had written several really beautiful pieces,” Burnett said. “The director wanted to take over the music, so he fired Danny. He sort of stopped this process in the middle, which is a bummer. It really is because Danny was some beautiful [music] … we were doing this kind of broken future that would have made a lot of sense. The director couldn’t handle it.”
Pleasantville is considered one of the most powerful and beautiful films of all time, I just happened to come across it recently as I was looking at some of Reese Witherspoon’s films.
After I had seen it, I could definitely see how it became one of the alleged most powerful films of all time, It’s message still resonates and speaks volumes about contemporary society. As it explores intolerance in different matters.
And while it certainly isn’t without It’s few flaws, I didn’t particularly care about them, as the film’s acting and It’ s gorgeous aesthetic more than make up for it, it truly treats us to beautiful visuals.
Pleasantville focuses on a brother and a sister, we initially start out in your average suburban American house in the 90’s. The sister who has recently gained in popularity has a date with a jock.
Meanwhile, the brother is preparing for a Pleasantville marathon, good old clean fun and 50’s family values, apparently, nice for an afternoon every now and again but certainly not forever which is exactly what happens here.
Brother and sister coincide in the living room, a fight over the remote control breaks lose, finally the remote falls on the ground and is irreparably broken.
Soon after, a mysterious mechanic offers his services. As they are watching tv, they accidentally push a button they shouldn’t have pushed and end up getting sucked in the programme, prepare for a sickeningly sweet, partly black and white 50’s suburban nightmare.
Perfect at first sight, you get a very hearty breakfast in the morning, that you are not allowed to not finish, bacon, pancakes with maple syrup, as in quantities that would under any normal circumstances guarantee a trip to the nearest hospital.
A crazy diner where the local teens meet up after school, to have their milkshakes and make plans to go to Lover’s Lane, where they subsequently only hold hands and do some very indecent kissing.
The siblings are in a television programme, the people in it, only know said the world and don’t have much of a free will, all their actions have been previously scripted and they never stop to consider doing something differently, this is the sibling turn up.
As it turns out, they can’t leave the town, as it simply ends and starts again after Main Street and Elm Street, they can never read a book for fun, as the pages are without written words, the houses don’t have king size or queen size beds, they don’t need them, as no one knows what sex is.
Until Mary Sue goes out with a local boy and has sex with him, who’s surprised when he gets an erection, and thinks he’s sick, she tells him It’s supposed to happen, funny but also quite tragic.
As the guy drives home, he spots a single red rose amongst the black and white, he has felt emotions and feelings that weren’t scripted, that were completely his own.
It’s the first indication that change is on its way. Later on, Mary Sue explains to her fictional mother what sex is, the mother says “your father would never do that”, Mary Sue tells her that she can have fun without him.
And here is when one of the most visually impressive sequences in the film takes place. The mother takes a bath and touches herself, soon the whole bathroom erupts in colour, and at the exact moment that she has an orgasm, the nearest tree catches fire.
Symbolising that change, a revolution is on its way. Soon all the housewives are asking their husbands for double beds, and don’t always have dinner ready on time anymore, they now leave instructions by the oven.
The people start to have free will, the owner of the local hamburger restaurant, doesn’t see the point in making hamburgers day after day anymore, he starts to paint, other starts to read, and very soon as the people mentally shift and become more liberal and free spirited, they begin to appear in colour.
But there comes a turning point when the coloured people clash with the noncolored people, signs with no coloureds allowed begin to appear.
It all starts when the owner of the hamburger restaurant, paints Betty Parker (the fictional mother of the siblings) naked, a woman he’s clearly in love with, and she seems to be in love with him also.
As he’s much more loving, kinder and respectful of her than her husband, where her husband shames her for now being coloured, he tells her she’s beautiful and to not hide it.
The next day some of the townspeople see the painting of naked Betty, on the diner’s window, and while It’s beautiful and very clearly art. The people are shocked and outraged, apparently bare breasts are corrupting and make people lose it.
Pretty soon their prudishness leads them to destroy the whole diner, the more conservative, proud black and whites turn against the coloureds, they burn books and make a whole set of rules (you could see it as metaphors for racism and fascism).
Everyone has to return to being dull, unwilled, passionless, prudish robots that lack any sense of individualism, the town begins to resemble a fascist regime closely, though eventually it does all end well.
But in the meantime, the film does explore many interesting subjects, such as the dangers of excessive prudishness, of punishing people for creativity and individuality, of the dangers of excessive want for order and control.
Some stuff has to be regulated, I think most people would agree with that, but if people become unhappy, intolerant, hateful and mindlessly and blindly obeying to authority It’s dangerous, as it can lead to everything for the law mentality, in which the law is even above human rights and human life. The film tells us about and instills all this in is along with beautiful cinematography.
But as beautiful as the film, It’s truly pleasant to watch, It’s a film that takes you on a visual and emotional journey. If the acting had been lesser, the film would have dropped to a lesser level.
Luckily this is not the case and we’re treated to a cast with great chemistry that delivers powerful and passionate performances, performances that allow you to invest in the characters and their story.
Reese Witherspoon who I love and (she’s been my favourite actress since I consciously remember watching films) affectionately call “chameleon Witherspoon” due to her ability to brilliantly transform into different characters.
She once again shined. Here she was still quite young, but even in her younger years, she never really managed to show inexperience or not convincingly portray a character assigned to her.
She’s natural, charismatic, looks like she’s having while she acts and turns in a strong and consummate performance, she manages to make us care about her character and convincingly shows us the transformation she experiences.
But as much as I like Witherspoon’s performance, so far I’ve never really disliked any of her roles, even if the film in question was on the lousy side, she always remains utterly, unflinchingly, elegant and convincing.
Her performance here is not one of my favourites, simply because I know that she’s capable of more, but it can’t be denied that she shined in what she was allowed to do here.
The film is filled with good performances, some a little more cliche and less developed, they’re roles that don’t really allow the actors room for showing off their acting range, as they’re stereotypes, but nonetheless the actors put their best foot forward and make the best out of their roles.
My favourite performances are Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels as Betty Parker and the diner owner. They’re both some of the only, genuinely kind warm and romantic people in the town.
They’re people with a distinct personality, that appears when the siblings arrive, they adapt so wonderfully and thrive in their happiness in such a delightful way that you can’t help but think that they may have become different on their own, even if the siblings hadn’t arrived.
They’re two characters that are so sympathetic and sweet natured that you can’t help but fall in love with them, and they have such realistic feeling chemistry together, that you can’t help but support them through and through.
The scene where the diner owner wipes off Betty’s B&W makeup is in my view one of the most beautiful scenes between any couple, It’s such a heartfelt, you’re almost forced to feel something.
You genuinely care about these people, and want them together, when I discovered that Betty posed for him I I thought hell yeah these people are more alive than anyone in the town!
Also, he painted her because he finally embraces his love of art, he’s fallen in love with her and wants to show her that she’s loved and that she has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
And he does it through art, and as he does it, they both make each other come alive, It’s not a cold, you sit still over there and I’ll paint you or snap a picture of you, for purely commercial reasons.
It’s a genuine romantic moment between two people, also there’s no “paint me like one of your French girls” ( sorry, I simply couldn’t resist) of any sort to be seen anywhere.
The direction allowed in part for the good acting, it shows that the director worked well with the cast and that they had clear ideas of what to do.
I don’t know if they were allowed much or any improvisation at all, but all the actors deliver performances that feel natural and unforced, not tense or scripted.
As I said earlier some performances are less developed than others, it would have been nice to discover some of these characters more in depth, but It’s not something that detracts.
As those performances are also good, but I do believe that would have elevated it to the next level, you would have been even more emotionally invested.
Next, there’s a few flaws and inconsistencies, things that aren’t explained or that seem a bit out of place, but It’s in very few scenes and the film has such a powerful overall message, that you can easily overlook it.
One thing in the direction that I couldn’t possibly critique is the pacing and timing. The director’s dramatic timing is excellent, everything happens at precisely the right instant, this one of the things that make the film feel so alive, along with its great sense of spontaneity and lastly it never drags.
The cinematography is just utterly stunning, the contrast between black and white and colours makes for gorgeous shots, of course, a large part of it also lies in the camera work.
The shift between colours and black appears in tactfully measured moments, and are filmed in such a way that they surprise and overwhelm in the bests sense of the world.
These scenes feel like little cinematographic pearls, that you collect throughout the film until in the end you’re left with the grand beautiful painting, that it is on a whole.
I see Pleasantville as a painting or a puzzle, that constructs itself before your eyes, as both the scenery and the people change, the camera transmits this in way that never feels all over the place, it feels intimate,It’s more like watching the visual equivalent of what I can only call a sociological fairytale, or a newspaper article being told.
The wonderful soundtrack with music by Randy Newman and Fiona Apple also adds plenty of charm and helps in creating the pleasant atmosphere.
If you want to watch a unique, little film that moves, that touches different subjects originally, that’s beautiful to look at and that It’s heart in the right place I suggest giving Pleasantville a chance.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own