Thursday, 24 July 2014

Pleasantville (1998)

I must confess, I sat down to watch this DVD with only tepid enthusiasm.  I saw and liked Pleasantville when it was at the cinemas - that's why I own the DVD - but I've never really felt in the mood to re-watch it.  I only did so now because it was the last remaining movie that I bought before 2007 and had never watched.

So it was (appropriately enough) a pleasant surprise to find myself really enjoying the film.  It's not a subtle movie, at least on the surface, and the ending leaves one rather important question unanswered, but it does what it does very well.  And there is perhaps a layer going on under the surface.

The premise is simple enough, if a little exotic: two squabbling siblings, one a dork, one a rebel, find themselves sucked into the black-and-white millieu of a Leave It to Beaver-esque TV show.  They take the place of two of the principal characters, and must attempt to navigate their new surroundings until they can find a way out.  Fortunately, the dorky male sibling has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the show.

Unfortunately - or so it appears at the time - his rebellious sister isn't interested in sticking to the saccharine sweet and G-rated script.  She introduces sex to the high school kids, for whom hand-holding has been the 'big one' to date, and inadvertently begins a cascade of cultural changes that slowly see more and more of the townspeople turn technicolor(tm).

This phenomenon is used for the movie's subtle-as-a-brick attack on racism, with 'no coloreds' signs appearing in shop windows as those who are still black and white rally against the new element within their society.  The book burnings and other antics are also a pretty clear critique of censorship and attacks on free speech.

But there's also a little more going on in the film, I think.  Dorky brother's initial efforts to stop his sister from 'ruining' the town stem out of the fact that he sees the other people here only as characters in a story.  As he gets to know them and like them, his efforts to stop her cease, and he becomes the greatest agent for change.  And there's something in that: the message that we can best understand and work with others when we start seeing them as fully rounded individuals. "Imagine other people complexly", as author John Green would say.

So yes, I really enjoyed this: solid performances all round, and a fun script which is only slightly marred by its refusal to provide the answer to one rather obvious question (you'll know what it is when you see the movie).  Worth your time.

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