Movie Review – “Pleasantville”

Utopia is a subjective concept.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Tobey Maguire as David / Bud

Reese Witherspoon as Jennifer / Mary Sue

William H. Macy as George Parker

Joan Allen as Betty Parker

Jeff Daniels as Bill Johnson

J.T. Walsh as Big Bob

Don Knotts as the T.V. Repairman

Written and directed by Gary Ross

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

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Two normal teenagers of the 1990s get sucked into a TV sitcom from the 1950s. The two cultures don’t quite mesh.

High Point

There are several great individual moments in this film. My personal favourite is the long shot in the courtroom and its technical reference to To Kill A Mockingbird. Others include the “Fire. Fire! FIRE! … Cat?” dialogue, waking up the morning after, and any scene involving Don Knotts.

Low Point

This movie is loaded with many things. Subtlety is not an abundant one.

The Scores

I have to give credit for an original execution of an unoriginal set-up. The “real world gets sucked into fantasy” is as old as Alice In Wonderland, and has hit degrees of success as poor as The Last Action Hero. What sets this effort apart is the avoidance of pure escapism and self-parody, using the “fish out of water” elements to make some interesting commentary on some of the less savoury aspects of society. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects are excellent. The transportation into and out of the TV are the two traditional effects, well executed. A huge portion of the rest of the movie includes frames that include a mix of color and greyscale aspects, which must continually blend and interact. The reflection of a black and white Bud on a coloured lake is one example of how hard the job is, and how well it was done. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story is well plotted, and fairly well executed. As I said above, I’d have preferred a little more subtlety in the execution. (For example, the scene where Jennifer asks David why she’s still in black and white could have ended after the camera cuts to the confused look on his face and before he actually answered, assuming the scene was needed at all. The audience could easily fill in the gap on their own.) I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting was excellent. The entire cast fit their roles perfectly. Don Knotts steals practically every scene he’s in, Jeff Daniels had the perfect mix of naivety and honest intentions, William H. Macy played the hapless father well, and Joan Allen did a wonderful job as the liberated mother. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon carried the lead roles very well. Finally, J.T. Walsh once again did an excellent job playing a character who made terrible decisions because he honestly thought he was doing the right thing. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response is quite strong. There are several entertaining and moving scenes in this film, with the right balance and evolution. It’s easy to just get absorbed by the film and run right along with the characters. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is very well done. The photography and colour choices are excellent, as they’d need to be to make this project work. A different director might have been able to provide the detachment needed to cut some of the writer’s favourite lines, or an editor with a little more clout, which (I think) could have helped the film by allowing the audience to draw some conclusions on their own. The sound wasn’t bad, but it didn’t get the same level of attention as the picture. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, I’d have to say this is a great film that can appeal to people who don’t normally watch genre entertainment. It’s not perfect, but it’s still highly recommended. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Pleasantville receives 36 out of 42.

6 replies on “Movie Review – “Pleasantville””

  1. This is one of my favorite films …
    The extras on the DVD are fascinating, Joan Allen’s makeup, the use of color as a character. I have a big emotional response to William H. Macy’s scene in the court room at the end. I don’t think any living male actor can emote as quietly and convincingly as him. Just one look …

    The use of jukebox’s music in the soda shop is brilliant too.

    The story has some problems, but it’s a modern fairy tale. Fairy tales aren’t usually meant to be rational. :)

    Happy New Year folks!

    -Joe G.

    • God gave me a gift

      Worth seeing if you haven’t. I like almost anything with H. Macy in it.

      Especially when he’s got a shovel ;-)

      • I shovel well …

        I love that movie. Hey, there’s an idea for a review. :)

        -Joe G.

        • Re: I shovel well …


          I love that movie. Hey, there’s an idea for a review. :)

          -Joe G.

          It’s already on the request list. I’m too sick to focus
          on something well enough to write a review today, but I’m
          hoping I’ll be well enough tomorrow to get back to
          viewing. (I should be able to finish the sixth season of
          Buffy at least.)

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