With the aforementioned dreaded Uni work done, I can get back to watching films and using this site as a soapbox for all my opinions, no matter how ludicrous and controversial.

Pleasantville (1998)

Go into any local corner shop, supermarket or hide in the bushes outside some old folks’ home and you’ll hear the same phrases over and over again. “The World’s gone to hell” they say, “Wasn’t like this in my day” they gab, before stuffing their 5th slice of Madeira cake into their wrinkled, opinionated mouths. Well, Pleasantville takes that idea and takes two modern day teenagers and warps them back to rose-tinted (odd, considering it’s black and white) Commie hatin’ Americana-era America in an homage to smiley dreck like Leave it to Beaver, a show disappointingly not about what it sounds like.

“I don’t know if I ever told you this before, but I think you’re just about the keenest girl in the whole school!”

David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are your average 1990’s teenagers. He’s obsessed with a 1950’s show called Pleasantville and she’s a massive slag. So far so typical (!) Anyway, some weird shit goes down and both David and Jennifer are sucked into the television and right into David’s favourite programme. At first I thought that Pleasantville was going to be a poor man’s version of one of my favourite films, The Truman Show, what with both films being fellow 1998 stablemates and dealing with the squeaky clean nature of retro television. However, I was pleasantly surprised when Pleasantville started coming into its own and standing up as a film in its own right. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon were both fine, with Maguire’s performance clearly being one of the main reasons he was cast as everyman nerd Peter Parker in Spider-Man.

Let’s just say this. Pleasantville is a beautiful looking film. The black and white aesthetic really works. When the colours start appearing, it is really something to behold, rather than just to passively watch. Let’s not forget it wasn’t the first film to do this (the first ever instance of colour in black and white being The Battleship Potemkin way back in 1925) and it won’t be the last. However, Pleasantville uses the colour to show changing attitudes and social revolution to great effect. The film is all about repression. The repression of women, sex and even anger. Everything’s a bit too nicey-nicey in the town of Pleasantville. So much so, it has an underlying creepy element to it. It’s like High School Musical without the songs and the irritating little fucksods that mime to them.

The stand-out performance for me was Joan Allen’s Betty Parker- the super housewife matriarch of the Parker family who undergoes a transformation from Stepford wife to liberated woman. The film shows us her journey without being too mawkish or vomit-inducing, which is a tough feat these days. Kudos to the film and the lovely Mrs. Allen, who shows a more sensitive side here than she does as dead serious Pamela Landy in the Bourne sequels.

“Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!… Cat?”

I only have two problems with Pleasantville. Firstly, it loses its way a bit around the time that the segregation of the “coloureds” kicks in, going into darker territory when it didn’t really need to. The second problem is the ending, which is odd to say the least. I won’t spoil it, but the words “cop” and “out” seem to sum it up. I really wish that these two problems were fixed because they’re the glaringly obvious dollops of bird shit on an otherwise perfectly shiny Aston Martin. But like the tarnished Aston Martin, no-one in their right mind should refuse a test-drive purely because of some avian arse-drippings. Pleasantville gets the Ben seal of approval and is definitely highly recommended.

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