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Far From Heaven
Review written by: Alex Sandell

The first thing you'll notice about Far From Heaven is its use of color.  The emphasis on color in the film calls to mind classic Technicolor pictures such as, The Wizard of Oz, Black Narcissus, and Vertigo.  It isn't by accident that the film evokes memories of full Technicolor splendor, as it is attempting to create a sense of what life as a white suburban female "Liberal" would be like during the 1950's, by creating a film that looks and feels as though it was pulled straight out of that long ago decade. 

Set Director, Ellen Christiansen and Costume Designer, Sandy Powell meticulously recreate the 1950s, and cinematographer, Edward Lachman brings their creation to stunning! dazzling! vivid! life.  Then, in comes the film's writer and director, Todd Haynes, who puts all of this magic to perfect waste with his incompetent storytelling and plodding direction. 

Todd Haynes should be ashamed over this monstrosity of lost potential that he has created.  He takes what may be the most accurate and lively recreation of the 1950s and turns it on its head with a simulated sitcom sense of saccharine stupidity that essentially turns the movie into the most beautifully filmed piles of horseshit to ever hit the silver screen.  

While Haynes may argue that the "sitcomized" version of humanity in his film is meant to be satirical, it becomes all too apparent that it is his own lack of ability to tell an honest story about a real dysfunctional 1950's family that turns this movie into nothing more than a very special episode of Father Knows Best, where father finds out he's homosexual, son finds out father doesn't give a rat's ass about him, and mother realizes that racial hatred is damaging, after-all.   

There's no doubt that this film wants to be important.  But, much like the homosexual husband played by Dennis Quaid, it wants to have it both ways.  By toning down all of its "risky" messages to the point where they're safe, the film dilutes any and all impact it may have had, and secures a nice PG-13 rating, in the process.  Worse yet, it keeps its messages tidily trapped decades ago, so as not to make any of us younger folk living in 2002 question ourselves ... just our grandparents. 

The movie basically tells us that people were racist in the 1950s, homosexuality was thought of as a disease in the 1950s, housewives were accommodating slaves to their successful husbands in the 1950s, rich white folk didn't make fast friends with their black gardeners in the 1950s, and the few rich white folk who did weren't accepted by their neighbors in the 1950s. 

Tell us something we don't already know, Haynes. 

Far From Heaven turns out to be less an edgy message movie than it does a nostalgia piece for people who never lived during the 1950s, but saw it plenty of times on Nick at Nite.  All in the Family did a far better job with presenting the same messages on network television 30 years ago.  But edginess is obviously not what Haynes is after; he's after the appearance of edginess. 

To add insult to injury, this entire thing was already done, and done far better, in 1998's Pleasantville.  In Pleasantville there was a reason these characters all acted like they lived in a sitcom - they did.  There is no reason given as to why the characters in Far From Heaven are acting like they crawled straight out of Stepford. 

We are presented with a genuine looking version of the 1950s, populated with sitcom characters overloaded with non-sitcom problems.  To his credit, Haynes does get some fairly good performances from his actors -- Dennis Haysbert and Julianne Moore are splendid in their scenes together -- but why are some of these actors playing this like it's a sitcom, and others like they're in To Kill a Mockingbird?    

The film is too inconsistent to be much of anything, and after you get hit over the head with its three key messages (homophobia, racism and sexism were common in the fifties) during the first 20 minutes of film, it has nowhere to go.  It's never funny, although it tries to be, a couple of times.  It's never meaningful, although it tries to be, a couple of times.  It's never satirical, although it tries to be, half of the time.  The only thing that remains consistent in the film is the inconsistencies of the film.  The messages the movie does have deserve repeating, but I'd prefer it not be in such a watered down way.

Sure, this stuff happened in the 1950's, but what about now?  America hasn't progressed as far as it likes to believe.  Over the past couple of years, as a country, it has actually been regressing.  Instead of wasting your time at this painfully bad film, spend 90 minutes across the street, taking in a showing of the exigent, Bowling for Columbine.  I saw that documentary immediately prior to seeing Far From Heaven, and comparing the two is mind-boggling. 

Where Bowling for Columbine is powerful and thought-provoking, Far From Heaven is weak and recycled.  Where Bowling for Columbine is up to the moment, Far From Heaven is living in the past.  Where Bowling for Columbine is one of the best and most important films of the year, Far From Heaven is one of the worst and most insignificant.  

Far From Heaven just may be the most fitting title in the history of film, because, before it's over, it will leave most of the audience feeling closer to Hell than they have in a long, long time. 

On a scale of 1-10?


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Text (Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].

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