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02 September 2005

Far from Heaven (2002)

Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine)

From Hollywood Video: "Julianne Moore emotes in this 1950s-set drama that takes a close look at a Connecticut housewife who discovers the dark underside lurking beneath her idyllic suburban existence. The engrossing melodrama pays homage to Douglas Sirk while drawing parallels with modern life."

Director Todd Haynes originally intended that this film be set in 2001. Frankly, it is a good thing he decided against a contemporary setting, lest the movie be stripped entirely of its interest and left to languish as a quiet, inferior American version of the family drama territory Mike Leigh already covers with greater success.

However, set in 1957 and stylized as an homage to director Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows), the film portrays life behind the glamorous dinner parties, oh-so-perfect matching scarves, gloves, pearls and high heeled-shoes, ladies auxiliary functions, "colored" house servants, and holidays in Miami in order to reveal the human tensions people were supposed to ignore or condemn. A man should fight his homosexual impulses with the same determination he would muster to battle cancer or Communists. A white woman should not speak with a black man in public lest they both suffer serious personal losses.

Perhaps the latent intent of the film - beyond poking holes in the 1950s ideal - was to highlight how far we have and have not come in the last 50 years. I found myself lulled into a false reverence for contemporary society when I thought, pityingly, that these people might have found happiness had they been able to express themselves today. But when - even in a relatively liberal city like Madison - have I seen two homosexual men comfortable enough in the world to walk down the street holding hands? Never. Inter-racial marriage is a little more common, but issues of multi-racial identity often confront the children of these unions. Are they black? White? Where do they fit in? We are hardly liberated enough today to reflect on the past with an authentic sense of progress and enlightenment.

As for the movie itself, I'm afraid it suffered from "movie with a point" syndrome. Aside from the interesting confluence of 1950s imagery with modern issues, the story itself lagged. Julianne Moore played a much more troubled and distinctive character in The Hours (again, as a 1950s housewife with a secret), Dennis Quaid's portrayal was over-the-top and hardly worthy of his recent attempts to enter a successful middle-age acting career, and Dennis Haysbert (of 24) was warm, worthy, and slightly stiff. While the movie had laudable statements to make, it was not engaging enough to propel a discussion on the societal changes these characters could have used to find happiness.

That, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Julianne Moore with Sesame Street’s The Count in “Far from Seven” – which just goes to show how warped my mommy mind has become.

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