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    Far From Heaven

    Minority retort

    "Far From Heaven" has garnered raves as a skillfully crafted celluloid exploration of prejudice but its stilted recreation of 1950s America leaves a flat impression.


    With "Far from Heaven," writer/director Todd Haynes ("Velvet Goldmine," "Safe") has fashioned a 1950s melodrama for the 2000s. More specifically he has developed a 1957 melodrama for a 2002 audience.

    Written and directed by: Todd Haynes.
    Cast: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Bette Henritze, Michael Gaston, Ryan Ward, Lindsay Andretta, Jordan Puryear..

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    This is uncommon. There are period films, of course, and there are nostalgic reproductions of a bygone era (not to mention the spoofs and the camp classics, from "Reefer Madness" to "Pleasantville"), but Haynes has done something a little bit different. He has taken a specific style of filmmaking from a specific period in history, Hollywood history, and lovingly recreated it on a studio back lot — the look, the feel, the sound of it, from its large, Technicolor credits and flashed-upon-the-screen slanting title design to its underlying themes of homophobia, racial prejudice, and marital discord.

    The look is uncommonly good — bright, clean, and radiant. Autumn leaves are ruddy and vibrant, women's taffeta dresses billow and bustle, cars are mint-green clean and chromed. The sound is right where you'd want it to be — crisp and nostalgic, the dialogue succinct, mannered, and time-sensitive, the music uplifting and overachieving (veteran composer Elmer Bernstein was scoring them back then and provides the goods today).

    It's a time capsule of a movie that doesn't really fit any latter-day mold. It's awkward by today's standards and deliberately so. It's a slice of someone else's life.  

    The only problem with all of this is that "Far from Heaven" feels like an intellectual exercise (and a disconcerting one at that) rather than a film you can truly sink your teeth into (although applause appears to be commonplace at screenings, and more than one critic has already dubbed Haynes's film "a masterpiece"). It's a time capsule of a movie that doesn't really fit any latter-day mold (other than a blow-by-blow redo of a vintage romantic drama in that Douglas Sirk vein — "All That Heaven Allows," "Imitation of Life," "Magnificent Obsession"). It's awkward by today's standards and deliberately so. It's a slice of someone else's life (Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Lana Turner). It doesn't "scan."

    The plot could have been lifted from any Sirk first draft. Julianne Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, a respected pillar of suburban Connecticut society with two white picket fenced kids and a successful businessman of a husband (played by Dennis Quaid). Respected, that is, until she drops off some leftovers at Frank's work one night to find him in the arms of another man (strike no. 1). Then, in misguided panic, desperation, whatever, Cathy strikes up a relationship with her African-American gardener Raymond Deagan (they called them Negroes back then; strike no. 2).

    Haynes boils things down appropriately and dutifully, including the period's beliefs that homosexuality was a disease that could be cured with medication and that no prominent white woman should be seen talking to a black man, let alone dancing with him in a juke joint. Moore and Dennis Haysbert (as Raymond) give good accountings; Quaid is a little shy of the more dramatic/thematic material.

    Deliberately and devotedly constructed, "Far from Heaven" is too picture-postcard perfect, too neat and new pin-like, too obviously a recreation to resonate (at least with this poor unfortunate). While one can fully appreciate and respect its methods, its motivations seem more than a little contrived.

    NOVEMBER 19, 2002

    Reader comments on Far From Heaven:

  • disappointed   from choles, Mar 28, 2003
  • Re: disappointed / Answer   from Adhemar, Jul 27, 2003
  • far from heaven   from th, Apr 7, 2003
  • Re: far from heaven   from Adhemar, Aug 1, 2003
  • heavenly acting   from Dorothea, Apr 11, 2003
  • Trite and unimaginative   from Stacy, May 27, 2003
  • Best Movie of the year   from Rick, Jun 26, 2003
  • Re: Best Movie of the year   from Conde, Aug 1, 2003
  • "Far from Heaven"   from Adhemar, Jul 26, 2003

  • Post a comment on "Far From Heaven"