Among the intellectually populated and hallowed halls of the online film reviewers guild it’s seemingly trendy to hate the film Pleasantville. Having my own fond memories of the flick I thought I’d stick it back on to see if it’s as good as I remember.
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It’s the film that young film students ponder over and write discourse about. Dissertations about how it’s a “ground breaking concept”, and that its “social commentaries are impactful and resonating”. It’s the film that Reddit users spit venom about from the comfort of their crusty Y-fronts, but secretly adore for its geo-historical satire.
What these commentators fail to mention is that it’s just a fine film. A well-rounded, thought-out piece of media that entertains, inspires and brands well.
There are elements of old favourite ‘Stay Tuned’ (1992, John Ritter) in there that make this a nostalgic thrill to watch. I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw the comparison – after all both films begin with the obsessed protagonist who finds solace in his television set. The tv remote breaks and a mystical higher power shows up to fix it. Adventure ensues (albeit in ‘Pleasantville’ the adventure element is rather subdued)
Immediately this film is on to a winner by casting William H. Macey. With that being said the plot gives the leading cast an opportunity to explore their characters with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon both putting in excellent (but not obviously so) portrayals. Jeff Daniels turning in more of a placeholder performance but the casting of Don Knotts as the TV repair man is spot on. Knotts easily toes the line of higher-power-meets-omnipotent-jackass and he does it all with his patented amiable style.
Obviously this film is loaded with various subtext and commentary on politics, censorship, religion, identity, race – I could go on but I won’t (I’m telling you my thoughts on the film, not its context or how you may feel about it and if you ask me there’s too much of that self-obsessed identity commentary on the internet at present, thankyou kindly).
What I love about the world of ‘Pleasantville’ is the ramifications created by our protagonists intrusion. For instance, when the characters begin to disrupt the norms of ‘Pleasantville’, such as asking what is outside of the town or introducing new slang phrases – there is real knock on effects from their actions. We are able to see these concepts grow and spread through the town like a virus as the plot progresses. A scene of note would be : when skip misses the basket and everyone backs away from the ball. The concept is so alien to their world at first, but as the changes occur in the town we see this mutate.
The introduction of violence and aggression is another noteworthy concept. We see the characters adapt as the world around them changes. The emergence of the two warring elements – one trying to change the town, to move with the world and its new freedoms – the other trying to sustain the norm and traditional ‘Pleasantville’.
In the films darker moments (of which there are plenty) it is still wholesome at its core and doesn’t get preachy about its message. The pacing is slow but deliberately slow which makes it an easier and (dare I say) pleasant watch. Pun fully and unashamedly intended.
Fiona Apple performing her cover of ‘Across the Universe’ tops the film off nicely.
This film is absolutely swell. 4 malt shops out of 5. Heres my letterman jacket, i’m taking you to prom cos you’re my best good girl.