Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels
Director: Gary Ross
Running Time: 125 mins
Pleasantville is an American film about a teenage brother and sister from the 1990s who are sucked into their TV and find themselves in a 1950s-style sitcom, and their misplaced modern behaviour threatens to upset the perfect balance of this pleasant but naive world.
This is a thrillingly original film with a captivating concept, great cinematography, a good level of humour balanced with equally heavy drama and fantastic performances all round.
Although, on the face of things, this may seem like a generic Disney-esque fantasy-comedy where these kids go back to the 50s and have a lark of a time, but once you get into things, you realise that this is an incredibly intelligent and often dark perspective on these sorts of stories; it’s basically like watching Back To The Future if Marty McFly didn’t have Doc and everything just went wrong.
The film starts off on a light-hearted tone, and largely maintains that throughout the first act, which lasts for about an hour, and although it feels a little slow-starting right at the beginning, once you’re thrust back into the 50s, this absolutely whizzes by, and the sharp, rapid-fire jokes that are thrown at you in this initial period will make you laugh so hard that you’ll wish it won’t end.
That excellent level of comedy comes in part from this film’s subversive satire of the generic back-in-time comedies. It takes the mick out of these films perfectly, balancing cutesy family-friendly humour with darker, more intelligent shots, and the almost hyperbolic nature of the performances initially adds to the sense of surrealism, which makes it all so much crazier yet more enjoyable to watch.
Talking about the performances, Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, the main actors, are excellent, putting in shows that portray their teenage characters as both mature young adults as well as excited little kids, again adding to that humorous/serious balance in this film. Meanwhile, supporting players such as Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen and William H. Macy all add to the great juxtaposition between the modern era and the past era with convincing performances as stereotypical family-values, happy-go-lucky, naive 1950s men and women.
The second act of this film is where everything takes a bit of a turn. The comedy still remains, but there is suddenly a change in focus to a more dramatic and dark atmosphere. Instead of parodying the genre, this turns to make a comment on political repression in alleged ‘utopias’, showing in clear form the divide that freedom of expression and desired peace can create, and although it is occasionally a tiny bit preachy, it’s still an absolutely fascinating theme to follow, and its use within a comedy-fantasy to be a bit dramatic and important brilliantly original.
Finally, throughout the film, there is some excellent cinematography. It’s not just the way that the past era is portrayed, but the use of colours to emphasise the growing divide and tension caused by these two teenagers’ arrival is again stunningly original and beautiful to watch.
Overall, this gets an 8.5, because of its intelligent satirical comedy that kept me laughing light a madman, and its ability to balance it superbly with a darker, more dramatic theme that comes about in such an original and unpredictable way.