Sunny

Sunny

max temp: 6°C

min temp: 1°C

Search

An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Pleasantville (1998)

PUBLISHED: 12:03 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:03 21 April 2017

Tobey Maguire's David applying make up to disguise the fact that his TV mother (Joan Allen) has gone colour in Pleasantville. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Tobey Maguire's David applying make up to disguise the fact that his TV mother (Joan Allen) has gone colour in Pleasantville. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Archant

With blockbusters clammering for our attention at every turn it’s easy for some of the smaller, more thoughtful films to slip passed, unnoticed. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies, both old and new, that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon finds themselves trapped in the 'nice' black and white world of a 1950s TV sitcom in Pleasantville. Picture: CONTRIBUTED Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon finds themselves trapped in the 'nice' black and white world of a 1950s TV sitcom in Pleasantville. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Pleasantville, Dir: Gary Ross, starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy and J.T. Walsh. Cert 12

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be – so the famous saying suggests. This is the raison d’ etre for a subtle and brilliantly funny satire Pleasantville written and directed by Gary Ross, the man behind Tom Hanks’ bodyswap comedy Big.

Whereas, the previous film was merely a clever idea that was superbly realised, Pleasantville is an entertaining, bittersweet comedy with something pithy to say about the world in which we live.

The black and white world of Pleasantville gradually slips into colour as sex rears its head. Picture: CONTRIBUTED The black and white world of Pleasantville gradually slips into colour as sex rears its head. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The film follows the humdrum life of David, a TV nerd played with a lovely sense of irony by Tobey Maguire. It seems that he lives his life through the prism of old 1950s sitcoms where people lived impossibly perfect black and white lives in small town USA.

David likes his safe, unadventurous life which is in stark contrast to his sister Jennifer, played by Reese Witherspoon with a devilish twinkle in her eye, who has always got her eye on the next hot date.

Meanwhile their parents are not the happiest couple in the world with their constant bickering and arguments. To David the world portrayed by his safe, cosy black and white sitcoms is infinitely preferable to the messy real world in which he finds himself.

But, he soon finds that he should be careful what he wishes for. A fight with his sister over the TV remote control finds them transported into the predictably black and world of Pleasantville where each episode starts with Dad (William H Macy) putting his hat on the hall stand and uttering his catchphrase: “Honey. I’m home.”

It’s a world of happy, dependability and David and Jennifer are about to wreck havoc. Thanks to endless TV re-runs, it’s world that David knows well but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not a world that either of them really know.

Apart from being in black and white, no-one goes to the toilet, meals don’t get burnt and every basketball shot or baseball strike hits the mark. The world is clean, lovely, resolutely cheery and upbeat. Everyone is white, middle-class and has a job.

This is a world without passion, without sex, without rock’n’roll. At first David has to coach Jennifer not to disturb the equilibrium but ever so subtly bits of colour start to appear. At Lover’s Lane chaste hand-holding has been replaced with kissing and when one of the high school basketball stars has sex for the first time the evidence of his wrong-doing is shown-up for all to see when he misses a shot – the first person at the school ever to do so.

Slowly at first, but gathering speed as the film hits its stride Pleasantville bursts into colour. At first it’s seen as a mark of shame and grey make-up is applied to hide their wrong-doing. There are obvious metaphors about racial segregation but the film isn’t bout that, it’s about allowing yourself to enjoy new experiences.

Jennifer introduces her mother (Joan Allen) to the joys of bath-time masturbation while David shows would-be artist and soda shop owner Jeff Daniels the world of Picasso, Turner and Van Gogh. He starts to paint and his world explodes into colour while the tree outside Joan Allen’s bathroom bursts into flames.

The middle-aged men of the town retreat to their own safe haven. “Thank God nothing can touch us in the bowling alley” one of them says. But, even for them the world of change is about to engulf them.

Pleasantville is hugely enjoyable film filled with great ensemble performances but it’s also a great satire and one that lingers in the memory long after you have finished watching it.

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Eastern Angles Christmas show has a reputation for creating affectionate spoofs of cultural classics. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to producer Tim Bell about having fun with The Ladykillers.

DanceEast commissioned a real Christmas treat from choreographer Jane Hackett when they asked her to develop her idea of turning Mary Norton’s much-loved children’s novel The Borrowers into a dance-theatre production.

The Ladykillers is one of British cinema’s golden classics – an Ealing comedy that appears to be rosy on the outside but as soon as you dig beneath the surface its humour is as black as coal. This Christmas Eastern Angles and Shanty Theatre have decided to give this dark caper movie a modern and a local make-over.

If you haven’t sent Santa your Christmas list yet, pop tickets for this festive-fuelled fairytale on it first.

It’s not Christmas without a visit to Red Rose Chain’s The Avenue Theatre. We spoke to writer and director Joanna Carrick and actors Emma Swan, Darren Latham and Ryan Penny about The Elves and The Shoemaker.

A great panto starts from the moment the audience enters the auditorium and starts looking at the set laid out before it. Arts editor Andrew Clarke talks to designer David Shields about the art of creating a larger-than-life panto world

DanceEast is staging the premiere of a new dance-theatre production of the children’s classic The Borrowers. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to director Jane Hackett about putting dancers in the middle of an animated world

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis says Greg Davies, live in Ipswich as part of the You Magnificent Beast tour, is one of the funniest stand-ups she’s seen.

Robert Wright throughly enjoys Dick Whittington, this year’s panto offering at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal

Most read

Eating Out in the Broads

cover

Click here to view
the Eating Out
supplement

View

Visit the Broads

cover

Click here to view
the Visit the Broads
supplement

View

London Boat Show 2018

cover

Click here to view
London Boat
Show supplement

View

Show Job Lists

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter
MyDate24 MyPhotos24