Here’s another one from the movies-you-may-not-know pile.
Pleasantville is a pretty strange film in concept, two teenagers (twins in fact) get sucked into a black and white 50s TV show thanks to a slightly creepy TV repair guy. Their behaviour in “Pleasantville” begins to affect the town and its people so much that the very nature of their society is completely and irrevocably changed. It almost sounds like a kids film, until you watch it and realise there’s some definitely not-for-kids themes going on.
So, is it any good? Well, yes actually! The film is totally predictable with the twins, played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, swapping roles; Witherspoon becomes more straight-laced and while Maguire learns how to have fun. But it’s the predictability that makes it so enjoyable. In fact, the only thing about the film I didn’t like was the ending, which breaks away from the natural story arc and goes in a direction which I found a bit implausible. (I also thought of a much better way of ending the film, but I want you to watch this film so I’m not going to ruin it for you!)
The best thing about this film is it’s use of colour. At first, everything in Pleasantville is black and white, but every time someone removes themself from the normal pattern of events colour appears in the town. The first to change is a red rose, with colour then spreading to cars, trees and finally, people. The town ends up divided between the orthodox residents, who remain monochrome, and those who have given in to the looser morals and free thinking of our invading characters, who stand out in glorious Technicolor. What results is an unexpected comment on racism, morality, culture and the nature of society.
To look at, the film is also brilliant, as the gradual integration of colour is very cleverly done, particularly in scenes such as the drive to “lovers’ lane.”
There are some great funny moments in the film and the appearance of “Greasers” and other bits of 50’s memorabilia really highlights the contrast between the two sides of society, and marks the shift in ideas between the 50s and 60s. It would be easy for this film to play on the generation gap, having all the kids in colour and adults as the prudes, but the side story of the growing romance between David’s “mother” and the ice cream parlour owner (Jeff Daniels) is equally, if not more compelling than the main plot. Daniels’ character’s discovery of Art is also a really nice moment, well performed by an underrated actor.
I definitely would recommend Pleasantville, as both a nostalgic look back at our romanticised view of 50s america and as a film which actually manages to make some valid points. As I said, the ending isn’t great, and does leave a bit of a plot hole, but I’ll forgive it that on the basis that the rest of the film is really worth your time.