You should have seen the Show Biz Maven at the
premiere of PLEASANTVILLE modeling her poodle skirt, saddle shoes, angora sweater and
circle pin. Then you should have seen the person next to your Maven showing off his
pierced tongue ring and spiked magenta hair. All in fun the Maven supposed. After all,
bizarre things can happen when taking a trip to PLEASANTVILLE, a visually clever film that
pokes fun of the idyllic, monochromatic life in the 1950s - a time when uppers and downers
meant teeth and problems were purely mathematical.
Screenwriter Gary Ross ("Dave" and "Big") makes his directorial debut
with an all-American look at this fictional small town where seldom is heard a
dysfunctional word. There you won't find anything more comforting than the voice of dad
(William H. Macy) calling to his wife (Joan Allen), "Honey, I'm home!"
Ross intentionally wants us to laugh as the father hangs his hat up, and his wife
patiently waits to hand him a perfectly mixed martini. She looks so content to
"serve" him. "What's for dinner?" he asks. Another giggle, yet it
makes you think that things were this way in some households before the family unit became
While gently poking fun of the bland '50s, Ross lobs missives into this outlandish and
amusing fantasy. It all begins when a mysterious TV repairman (the bug-eyed Don Knotts)
magically morphs two typical adolescent siblings from the 1990s into the reel 1950s
sit-com of "Pleasantville."
Trapped in a black-and-white society, the teens can't believe they're in a time warp where
everyone and everything is colorless, nonsensical. Books have blank pages, bathrooms are
without toilets, the city has no exists (as if there were someplace else to go), and there
is no sex. In fact, the only tingling sensation comes from glass milk bottles being
carried up the front porches.
At first glance, this doesn't faze David (Tobey Maguire) to be in this make-believe
setting, since he's an avid fan of the series and knows the entire town's characters.
Played smoothly and confidently by Maguire, he's sensitive, ready to please. His sister
Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is another story. A '90s vixen, she takes one look at the
sexless, sanitized world they've been sucked into, and knows they're stuck in
Not like back home where they have all the modern conveniences, but live in a
stress-filled environment with their divorced single mother. Transported to what seems
like a foreign country, they acquire Squaresville parents whose idea of a healthy
breakfast is a dazzling array of cholesterol piled up to the ceiling.
Faced with a strange kind of shock and boredom (and in Jennifer's case, near insanity from
sex depravation), they slowly stage an awakening. Maguire befriends the soda fountain
manager (Jeff Daniels) and introduces him to the world of art. Pretty soon Daniels is
scandalizing the town with his nude painting of Maguire's "mom,"while
Witherspoon sets off a riot of necking and petting. As passion sprouts, so does color!
That's not all. Pages of books are suddenly filled with writing as teens devour everything
from J.D. Salinger to D. H. Lawrence, not to mention listening to vintage Buddy Holly.
So there's the key. Stir up feelings; unlock your passion, and presto! COLOR! Credit John
Lindley's inventive cinematography that opens up a Technicolor universe, along with
Jeannie Oppewall's smart production design, and Judianna Makovsky's costumes with that
unmistakably '50s glow.
Yet the most dramatic change in PLEASANTVILLE occurs with the mother. Joan Allen portrays
her as vacuous and heavily starched, until her "daughter" educates her on the
birds and the bees. The result is astonishing and so marvelously acted that Allen steals
Tobey Maguire is never far behind. He's the good kid who wants to educate and bring
vitality to the cardboard cutout community. Take it from your Show Biz Maven, Tobey
Maguire is no one-note samba like Matt Damon or any of the new peach-fuzzed boys.
Ultimately the credit belongs to Gary Ross who delivers enough homilies that will have
some in the audience saying "Enough, already." His once unflappable town loses
its placid demeanor and becomes suspiciously tinted; apparently taking people at their
face value isn't what it used to be.
But new ideas are healthy Ross tell us, even if they frighten and disrupt people's lives.
Otherwise, without taking risks, without having feelings, we're all trapped in
With love & knishes from your Show Biz Maven.
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