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Far From Heaven (2002)

1 rating: 3.0
Drama movie

This uniquely beautiful film--from one of the smartest and most idiosyncratic of contemporary directors, Todd Haynes (Safe,Velvet Goldmine)--takes the lush 1950s visual style of so-called women's pictures (particularly those of Douglas Sirk, director … see full wiki

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1 review about Far From Heaven (2002)

Nuanced performances reflect a complex time

  • Nov 30, 2003
Rating:
+3
I've never been disappointed by a Julianne Moore performance, but I have also never been as impressed as I was with her performance in "Far From Heaven." For this film, she turns in a remarkably restrained and subtle piece of acting, one that puts me in mind of Emma Thompson's excellent work in "The Remains of the Day."

Moore plays homemaker Cathy Whitaker, mother to 2 children and wife to Frank Whitaker (played by Dennis Quaid). The setting is the 1950's in Connecticut. Racial tensions are an undercurrent to the entire film, but the main subject is Cathy herself, and how she deals with growing difficulties both in her marriage and outside of it.

Prevalent in the film, almost a character in itself, is the sense of the 1950's. As the film begins, the Whitakers have an almost idyllic quality, like the Cleavers from "Leave it to Beaver." As the story goes on, though, the perfect facade begins to crumble, and we see some very real problems under the surface. It is done skillfully, and seems to be indicative of the '50's in general, this sense of a perfect mask, hiding any number of problems.

Another excellent performance is found in Dennis Haysbert, as Raymond Deagan, the Whitakers' African-American gardener. As Cathy struggles with the difficulties in her marriage and in her life, she develops a bond with Raymond, a bond which makes things tragically worse for her in the racially-restrictive atmosphere of the 1950's.

The way the story progresses makes it clear that Cathy is not a racist, but her circumstances force her into considering racial motivations for some of her decisions later in the film. The real tragedy in "Far From Heaven" is actually the tragedy of America in the 1950's -- there were many who realized that racial equality was important, but the society at large made it almost impossible for them to act on their beliefs.

Perhaps my only complaint of the film is that it tries to do a little bit too much. The story of Cathy and her internal conflicts would have been good enough, but late in the film other conflicts are introduced for Raymond and for Frank which do more to distract from Cathy's story than adding to it. It's not out of the realm of possibility for these conflicts to happen, but it's definitely a stretch, and it is at these points when the film loses a bit of focus.

Nevertheless, "Far From Heaven" is a film filled with wonderfully subtle performances, and expresses the feel of America in the 1950's very well. Fifties America was a lovely shell of peace and prosperity, but unfortunately that shell was fragile, and masked a multitude of sins and conflicts for those who lived through them. "Far From Heaven" portrays both the shell and the conflicts beneath it almost perfectly, and reveals a great deal about the time. It is a film, and a subject, worthy of attention.

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