When I heard Jeff Daniels was making a new film, called Pleasantville, and I saw from the trailers that it was in black and white… kinda… I didn't really know what to make of it. Having just come from the theatre, I'm still not sure exactly what to make of it, and I don't have the answers to all of the questions the film provoked in me, but I am sure of one thing: Pleasantville is just that, and at the same time, isn't merely.
Let me explain. This film starts out as a rather innocuous modern fantasy tale about a brother and sister who inadvertently get sucked into an old black-and-white television show. About halfway through the movie, however, you suddenly come awake with a start, jolted out of the "willing suspension of disbelief" by the fact that social relevance has crept into the film in a significant fashion, all the more so because of the fact that you didn't see it coming. Shades of McCarthy-ism, the Watts Riots, and the racial prejudice of the 1950's all come creeping into the film, to portray the dark side of bigotry against the "coloreds". Even a scene from the classic "To Kill A Mockingbird" finds its way into the movie, giving it all that much more emotional and historical clout.
Pleasantville deals with an ever-increasing series of complex social and emotional ideas that bring the viewer to a slightly higher level of awareness upon leaving the theatre. Not even the most obtuse watcher could escape a slight heightening of his or her awareness of the world after watching this film… when you step from the theatre, you immediately have a heightened sense of appreciation for the myriad colors of our own world, and for one brief moment, while the glow of the film still lingers behind your eyes, you marvel at the tapestry that unfolds every time you open your eyes and gaze at your own world.
The film tells the story of David (Tobey Maguire), a nerdy, television-obsessed, readily recognizable high-school youth, whose sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is on the fast-track to the "popular" cliché and a hefty reputation to boot. After a visit from a mysterious TV Repairman (whose identify I will leave as a surprise), and a new remote, the siblings, while arguing over what to watch that night (The MTV concert or the 24 hour Pleasantville Marathon, shown on a channel that specializes in Black and White sitcoms of our bygone era), get zapped into Pleasantville, in April of 1958. There, they find themselves "cast" in the roll of the son and daughter of the TV family, with their father, George (William H. Macy) and their mother, Betty (Joan Allen). David… er… Bud now, works down at the local soda shop, for Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels), a likable fellow who is the epitome of a "routine" individual. As the siblings begin to exert their knowledge and influence, even in small ways, a mysterious thing begins to happen, and colors that were assumed to have always been there begin to come out in ways that no one has ever seen, and they change "change" itself.
In a word, this film is fabulous. It deals with rather adult issues, so it might not be suitable for children in junior-high school and below (unless unusually mature), but the issues are dealt with in a very sensitive and humorous manner. It is my belief that this film is (or should be, at any rate) a contender for the upcoming Academy Awards for Gary Ross as Best Director, for Jeff Daniels as Best Supporting Actor, and for the amazing computer colorizing techniques used in this film.
I give this film an enthusiastic A+! If you see one film this month, this one should rank high among the ones considered for a night out. It's a great film to see with friends, with a loved one, or even by yourself, just don't miss this one! It won't be anywhere near as good on video!