Gary Ross directs Tobey Maguire, Joan Allen and Reese Witherspoon in this teen fantasy where two jaded teens are sucked into a 1950s conservative, picket fence black and white telly soap.
A very difficult film to dislike or be underwhelmed by. The Nineties teens very quickly corrupt the out-of-time world they are trapped in with their sexuality, self awareness and non-conformity. As the innocent TV show characters wake up to a wider realm of experiences beyond the limited scope of Pleasantville they begin to introduce Technicolor into their monochrome world. The FX to achieve this are impressive – what starts as an incongruous prop or costume turning bright red or green eventually becomes a porous division. Before The Phantom Menace this film had the record for the highest number of visual effects ever! Half the town embracing modernity and freedom and emotion turn vivid, the conservative and reactionary factions stay black and white in their hues and their views. Allegory dominates the final half of the movie. Allowing strong acting work from Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen as the awakened avatars in a threatened community. For a teen movie, Pleasantville is a very rich text to unpack. Having said that… it isn’t perfect as an entertainment. Unlike teen fantasies like Bill & Ted or Back to the Future, the heroes have very little agency or drive. They arrive, they disrupt and then one leaves with little personal risk or stakes. Reese Witherspoon in particular seems like an after thought in the second half. Pleasantville is a very clever big screen metaphor but only a very admirable youth adventure.
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