Pleasantville (1998)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

PLEASANTVILLE (1998) - Gary Ross

Welcome to Pleasantville, a 1958 idyllic town where every morning husbands wake up and find breakfast already prepared on the table, where they leave for work every day while the wives stay home and cook. Life is paradisal in Pleasantville. Everything is simple, as simple as black and white.

"Nothing is as simple as black and white."

That was the tagline for the theatrical poster of Gary Ross's directorial debut Pleasantville. The film follows David (Tobey Maguire) and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). Jennifer is shallow and outgoing barely reads, while David is shy and spends most his time watching the black and white sitcom Pleasantville. One night, a mysterious TV repairman arrives uninvited, quizzes David on his knowledge of the show, gives him a strange-looking remote control, and leaves. After a brief quarrel amongst each other, David and Jennifer suddenly find themselves transported into the television, into the world of Pleasantville. To their greatest surprise, they have now replaced the roles of the son and daughter of the show's protagonists (William H. Macy & Joan Allen). Unknowingly out of character, David and Jennifer as well as the entire population of Pleasantville find the town begin changing from black and white into color.

I never knew Tobey Maguire could do a true comedy. His sudden charisma and natural behaviors are what makes the amusing atmosphere of Pleasantville come to life. Reese Witherspoon is funny, charming, yet annoying. The two paired together forms outstanding chemistry, despite their personalities being extremely polarized. Macy and Allen once again prove that they deserve their respective places in the acting industry. One of the supporting roles, played by Jeff Daniels, also bears excellent characterization. The film strives with a terrific cast, but it is not the crucial element that makes it great.

The film as a whole is stimulating for us as audience members to discuss after being viewed. Ross makes an impressive debut with a nicely executed tale, contrasting culture of the 50s with culture of the 90s. At the same time, both time periods were accurately portrayed, similar to Back to the Future portraying the 50s and 80s with great precision. Corresponding to Schindler's ListPleasantville displays several shots where certain portions are in black and white while others are in color under the same frame. This majestic technique makes Pleasantville admirable to look at, stunning and splendid.

The theme that Pleasantville focuses on is the conflict of the rebellious individual against the conformity of society. From the words of Ross, the film is about "personal repression [giving] rise to larger political oppression…That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop." Pleasantville almost effortlessly delivers this thematic message, simply because it manipulates not only our minds, but also our eyes. Visually, the film uses straightforward images to supply and enhance its mean of communication. In the town of Pleasantville, it never rains, the temperature constantly around the 70s, the fire department has never seen a fire before, and the basketball team never misses a hoop. The authorities of the town demonstrate the practice of McCarthyism, a practice common in the 50s, heightening fears of communist influence, a theme that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was known for. The acting in Pleasantville is marvelous, but the real honor belongs to Gary Ross.

In conclusion, Pleasantville is a witty fable that bears the subliminal elements of The Truman Show and also supplies delightful humor, a "feel-good" amusement that is equivalent to the hilarity of Back to the Future. The storyline is original, and the production design is remarkable. It is clever, ambitious, and satisfying in countless ways. In other words, Pleasantville is a pleasant movie.


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