Sunday, October 15, 2006

Chili asks

"You know what? I bought Far From Heaven and was woefully underimpressed by it. I ended up giving the movie to someone (was it you?!). Tell me why I should have loved it, please; I feel as though I've missed something important..."

Far From Heaven is, at its base, a movie about civil rights. The movie is set in a suburban town in the 1950s. And that's all I can tell you without spoilers. So, if you haven't seen it, be warned, if you read on plot points will be handed out willy nilly, also possibly scattered hither and yon, even.

Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid play the quintessential upper middle class family. They are the envy of all their friends, they throw the best parties and have the nicest gardens and can be relied upon in any time of need. The problem is Quaid is gay. He never touches his wife and when the pressure gets too intense he goes trolling through hidden downtown gay bars.

Dennis Haysbert plays the son of their regular gardener who has recently passed away. He's an educated single father struggling to bring his daughter up safely and with dignity in a largely pale community.

Since Quaid is out trying to balance the whole double life thing Moore is home, but not alone. The only person that sees her difficulty is Haysbert. A, largely platonic, relationship blossoms.

Here I will digress just a moment to say that, even if none of the above is even a teensy bit interesting to you, Patricia Clarkson plays Moore's best friend. She's cynical and worldly and looks fabulous in the costumes. Her character embodies the society they live in and, as usual, Clarkson does it deliciously. Her work alone is reason enough to watch the movie.

Back to the rest of the movie. Here's a secret, it's stylized. It's more the 1950s of Donna Reed of Leave it To Beaver or even I Love Lucy than the 1950s in which our parents grew up. Plenty of movies try this, Pleasantville does it pretty well, but the whole point of that movie is to smash that style to bits and the movie only succeeds when the smashing has occurred. Every element of Far From Heaven lives within this stylized world. The costumes, sets, dialogue. No character is exempt and the only actor who has even the slightest wobble in their committment to the style is the son, and the kid's only like 6 and he only breaks the style once so I'm giving him a pass.

The style is the perfect backdrop to play up the heart wrenching choices the characters have to make. Quaid's character has what he recognizes to be a beautiful life. He has not only achieved the American Dream he's brought it to a new level and the fact of that makes him happy. He can relax in the dream and that gives him time to reflect. And that's where he gets into trouble. Because he may have everything someone could ever want but it's missing one er, hard element that he wants. For Haysbert and Moore they find a connection that's been missing in their lives, something they need in order to be able to go forward and it's with the one person their world forbids them from connecting to.

OK, all those stories we've heard before. Romeo & Juliet anyone? Pretty much every episode of Queer as Folk? So, it's the style that makes this a must see movie. The style is, truly, perfectly executed and thereby highlights the issues in a special and fascinating way. The performances are exquisite. It helps the viewer to see things in a whole new way, I think.

Which is why you should gut it out for at least one complete viewing.

(Please note that this writer believes that, if you're going to watch something, then one complete viewing is required. Watching something part way and saying, "Nah, no thanks." is not in her repertoire. The only movie she has ever left in the middle of was Red Dawn and that was a panic issue not a dislike issue. You never know when a movie or book or tv show will cough up that one nugget that makes it all worth it. Plus, I hate half done shit, it makes my skull itch. I mean her skull itch, her skull.)

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