“Pleasantville” is a fascinating social commentary that is as visually beautiful as it is introspective. This film is best known for its strategic use of colors in a black and white world and has become an iconic piece of film history. The contrast is stunning, like “Sin City” without the violence and graphic imagery. Various films have used this technique to be symbolic but there has never been a story that so effectively integrated the element into its plot. The vivid colors that fill the screen are complimented by brilliant cinematography. John Lindley transports us to this “Leave it to Beaver” world through unique camera angles and memorable shots. The entire film is an impressive work of art and I would have given it the Oscar for Best Art Direction over “Shakespeare in Love” any day. Unfortunately, the overt sexuality in the film negates the ability for families to watch this fascinating story together. I understand that this is a story of self-discovery and that is how some of the characters reach the enlightenment of who they really are, but the overemphasis on sexuality clouds the moral of the story. The film could have been easily been edited at a PG-level by implying things instead of using graphic noises; still, it is tame compared to the teen comedies of today. This film has a great cast, from the impeccable acting chops of William H. Macy to the scheming J.T. Walsh in his final film. Other big names include Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, and a nod to classic television with Don Knotts. The crew did a great job of finding an entire cast that has that classic 1950's look, and casting twenty-somethings like Marley Shelton and a young Paul Walker that look like teenagers. Reese Witherspoon’s performance was the best in the film and it really pushed her into the Hollywood spotlight, while Tobey Maguire’s performance made me realize that I didn’t even like his acting in his younger years. One of the film’s highlights is the memorable theme by Randy Newman that captures the mystery and wonder of this transforming utopia. Newman’s Oscar-nominated score works well alongside classics that transport us back to the late 50’s, including “At Last” by Etta James, “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, “So What” by Miles Davis, and Fiona Apple’s cover of “Across the Universe.” I can't believe that this film is almost 20 years old. Even in this time of unprecedented digital effects, “Pleasantville” still manages to take my breath away as the vivid colors of enlightenment contrast its black and white world.
[Pictured: So many screenshots from this film belong in an art museum]