Black, white, orange, yellow, red, green, etc., their all the same thing.
Geeky teenager David (Tobey Maguire) and his popular twin sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), get sucked into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV sitcom called “Pleasantville,” and find a world where everything is peachy keen all the time. But when Jennifer’s modern attitude disrupts Pleasantville’s peaceful but boring routine, she literally brings color into its life.
It’s hard to believe this but with The Hunger Games and Seabiscuit, I have now seen all of Gary Ross‘ films. Now I know that’s not saying much but with the three films he’s made, he’s very impressive and I hope he goes on and on to do more.
When I first was about to watch this film, I was expecting a nice satire on 1950s culture from the fashion to the TV and that’s what I got with plenty of laughs. The screenplay is very funny and there are plenty moments where I think Ross hit the nail right on the head with how he shows just all of the “too good to be true” moments and cliches that we usually see in old school television shows from the 50’s. I mean you got the temperature that always stays the same, the fact that these kids think they are so bad and dirty when they just hold each other’s hand, how every single kid on the b-ball team absolutely rocks and makes every single one of their shots, and just about everything else that made me laugh at just how much Ross makes jokes about. We all know that episodes of “I Love Lucy” are cheesy as hell now but back then, they seemed so cool and hip and it’s always fun to poke jokes at that especially since Ross isn’t doing it in a mean way either.
However, as much of a satire as it is, there is still more to this film than meets the eye. The whole film is one big insightful speech about how we should all stick up for ourselves and that things shouldn’t be as narrow-minded as they once were back in those days. If people didn’t like something back then, they just stuck by it because there was nothing else to do but honestly, who is that helping? You have to stick up for yourself and sometimes it’s not so wrong to change things up a bit rather than just doing the same old crap day after day. Ross brings a lot of this up and it’s also great to see how he is able to show contrasts between the 50’s and 90’s just through this one general theme.
What really struck me right away though was the way it looked. Ross uses black-and-white for the majority of the film but as the town starts to change, so do the colors. At first, we get little glimpses of red, or yellow, or pea green, but then the colors really start to pop-out at us and it mixes in well with the original black-and-white look it had in the first place. It’s pretty impressive how Ross was able to mesh these two art styles together but it’s also even more impressive how he made things such as a tree on fire, or a leaf falling, or even rain pouring down from the sky seem so much more beautiful than they actually. Well, that is Hollywood’s job to do (make simple things in everyday life seem so much more beautiful) but its add so much more to the film’s look and the story itself considering everything here is caused from the colors changing. It’s a very beautiful film and one that will probably make me look at everyday occurrences a lot differently now.
My problems with this flick though was that by the end, everything get’s a little too obvious. We know that this flick is making a statement about the 50’s lifestyle and how people just repressed their negative emotions towards their everyday life but Ross is aiming other places too. Ross draws a lot of comparisons to racism at that time as well and shows how the town doesn’t want anything to do with people who have color at all, and they even go so far as to call them all “coloreds”. It’s pretty obvious that Ross is trying to draw some ideas from this as well but it’s too in-your-face and can get very annoying at times. May seem like a dumb complaint but by the end, you’ll start to notice some preaching.
Tobey Maguire isn’t really playing anything new from his usual “lovable but geeky dude” role he plays but his performance as David is good because he’s able to seem like a real teenager that finally gets a chance to change a world that he though he never could be apart of in the first place; Joan Allen is also great as his TV mommy, that finds out about sex and then her whole life is changed which provides some of the better scenes of this film; Jeff Daniels is goofy but charming as the strange dude who works at the restaurant, Mr. Johnson, but when isn’t he playing anybody strange?; William H. Macy is good as David’s TV daddy and provides plenty of funny scenes when he tries his hardest to cope with the fact that his wife just won’t be around all that much after this sexual awakening in her; J.T. Walsh is good as the mayor, Bob Bob, playing his usual villainous character that we always see him in; and Reese Witherspoon isn’t in this as much as I would have liked even though she started this whole change in colors fiasco in the first place, but she’s still pretty good with what she does. It seems like with all of his films, Ross is able to assemble a great ensemble cast and give them all shots to strut their stuff, even if that person does include Paul Walker who probably gave his best performance ever here. You better be thankful for Gary, Paul.
Consensus: Some of it starts to get preachy by the end, but Gary Ross keeps Pleasantville just exactly that, pleasant, with great performances from the ensemble, funny satire, and themes about how we should all stick up for each other and change things up every once and awhile because going on in life so narr0w-minded, isn’t doing yourself or anyone else any good. Or at least that’s what I got from it.