Movie Review – Pleasantville (1998)

I’d heard about this movie ages ago and it’s been on my ‘to-watch’ list for ages, but I’d never managed to catch it on tv. To my great delight it was on the other night so I recorded it, and it was every bit as good as I’d heard. In Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon it stars two actors who I like a lot, and the supporting cast was filled with talent as well. The film centers around two teenagers who get thrown back into the world of a sitcom set in the 50s, and they take over the role of Bud (Maguire) and Mary-Sue (Witherspoon). They begin influencing the town and the town begins influencing them, but for better or for worse? 

At first it started off as a whimsical story as the fish out of water Mary-Sue fought against the wholesome nature of the black and white world, while Bud finally found a place where he felt comfortable. A lot of the early conflict was about Bud trying to keep things under control while the carefree Mary-Sue was trying to have some fun while they endured their fate, but eventually it turned into a very serious social commentary with a lot of intelligent and valid points to be made about discrimination, prejudice and freedom. I love the manner in which the story developed because it sucks you in thinking it’s a light comedy, then suddenly all these heavy issues come out and the shift in tone enhances the drama. 

I think a lot of people like me can identify with Bud. His encyclopedic knowledge of Pleasantville helps them survive in that world, and he feels more at home there than he does in the real world. There are certainly a few tv shows that I’d love to escape into. 

The film looks gorgeous too. I love the black and white aesthetic anyway, but seeing the vibrant colors come out was incredible, and it all served the story as well. The film dealt a lot with the corruption of the innocent, and a lot of the film had to do with sex. In the end though it was more about coming to terms with what’s inside you, and being true to yourself, which are worthwhile sentiments to express. Sometimes the symbolism was rather blatant, like when Bud was handed an apple, but it didn’t feel clichéd or unoriginal. The allegory between ‘coloreds’ and ‘non-coloreds’ was handled well, and it did a good job of showing how stupid judging somebody by their color is. Each supporting character had their own little journey and each was touching in its own way.

If I have a few minor criticisms it’s that I thought that Reese Witherspoon’s character was pushed into the background a little bit towards the end of the film. Also, it would have been nice to get a sense of how the Pleasantville world actually affected the Pleasantville tv show, since they seemed to be replaying existing episodes. But those don’t really affect the film itself. It’s a brilliant film, really entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. The cinematography is excellent so if you were like me and you haven’t seen it yet you should definitely check it out as soon as possible. 

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