Far from Heaven (2002)
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Review Date: December 29, 2002
Director: Todd Haynes
Writer: Todd Haynes
Producers: Christine Vachon
Julianne Moore
Dennis Quaid
Dennis Haysbert
Set in the 1950s, this film features the typical white, upper-class American family of the day, with its successful salesman husband, stay-at-home mom and wife, two doting kids and maid. That's until the true nature of most everyone in the film comes to the forefront as the husband reveals a deep, dark secret and the wife socially interacts with her black gardener. What will the Jones' think?
Bright, colorful, a critic's darling (and my parents loved it too!)...FAR FROM HEAVEN is a unique film set in the 1950s which pays tribute to the "women's pictures" from that period, while at the same time, spicing things up with a touch of racism, homosexuality, class-ism, wife beating, alcoholism and the general phony nature of people. I really liked the "feel" of this movie and loved the way that it looked with its dazzling colors, vivid foliage, pristine set design and old school clothing, all delivering the 1950s in spades. Cinematography awards should be a lock. But as per other "homage" films of its sort, it's also easy to see how some may find the picture to be "fake" looking and somewhat "over the top". A perfect example of this is in its acting and dialogue. For anyone who doesn't know any better, you might think that the actors are hamming things up when things start off, but thankfully nobody really goes overboard and you get used to the rhythm after a while. The dialogue also sounds "phony" every now and again, with "Leave it to Beaver" coming to mind and various "aw shucks" and "geez" spread around. But once again, the deeper we get into the story and beneath the mask of these folks, the more things actually start to feel more real and believable. I enjoyed it all nonetheless, since it felt more like a tribute and was pulled off quite successfully. The film's solid actors and memorable score also kept me entertained, as well as the actual story itself, which might have taken on one too many topics for its own good, but did a decent job of getting the word across overall.

The film also reminded me about how much racists suck ass, but that's a whole other ballgame. Dennis Quaid's struggle was also intriguing, as well as the true friendship developed between Julianne Moore and her black gardener, played by Dennis Haysbert. One of the issues I did have with the film might also have been related to its very nature of being a little "fake" on the outside, and that was in its lack of true emotion. By the time things got to swirling in the end, I didn't get as emotionally involved as I was prepared to be (and even though Haysbert was good in the acting department, I never felt any real connection between his character and Moore's-at least, not from his end) and didn't particularly shed a tear or shallow a gulp for anyone. I did, however, appreciate how every plot thread was ultimately completed, and how many of them were generally depressing (much like real life). But the film is extremely unique, both in its look and feel, and I especially loved its opening and the way that it would naturally transition from scene to scene (like vignettes). It's one of those movies that you can watch over and over, at least in terms of eye-candy. It also features a handful of subtext and subtle pokes at the embarrassing patois of the day, some of which actually had me chuckling (sadly). One particular line that had me cracking up was the one that came directly after Moore said: "I hear that everything is pink in Miami". Funny. I also loved the "relationship" that the parents had with their kids...wow ("Listen to your mother, son").

But mostly, the movie is appealing in its characters, engaging in their respective plights to "find themselves" and effective in showcasing the fašade that many people put on in the mornings in order to "keep up appearances" with the rest of the world. It's also one of the more creatively crafted movies of the year with some stunning imagery, authentic details and first-rate direction. A deeper connection to its characters might've tightened my grip to the material, but it's definitely one to catch for anyone who enjoys inventive takes on film, gorgeous looking movies and personal struggles from another era.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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