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Far From Heaven Review

By Joe Lozito

Surface Tension


The word Technicolor brings to mind the beautiful rich palette of the early days of color film: musicals from the 1940s and 50s, sweeping biblical epics, and of course the films of Douglas Sirk. In films such as "All that Heaven Allows" and "Written on the Wind", Mr. Sirk specialized in creating images and settings of impossible perfection and then populating them with characters in tragic situations. Writer-director Todd Haynes recreates Mr. Sirk's style impeccably, but injects it with 21st Century complications.

Cathy and Frank Whitaker have the perfect suburban home. They are, quite literally, the poster family for the neighborhood, appearing in ads for Frank's company, Magnatech Televisions. Cathy discovers how fickle fame can be when she is chided by her peers for befriending her gardener, an African-American single father (Dennis Haysbert, all gravity and charm). She attempts to shrug off the negative publicity until her world is completely turned upside-down when she discovers that Frank is having an affair with another man. As Frank, Dennis Quaid gives a performance that ranks with his best ("The Rookie" comes immediately to mind) as he peels away the layers of the stereotypical 50s company man. His Frank grapples with what at the time was treated a disease, and one with only a 10 percent chance of a cure, he is told.

Mr. Haynes plays with the issues of racism and homosexuality as they relate to the time period, so the result is uncomfortable to watch. But what is Mr. Haynes really trying to do? Like the best of science-fiction, Mr. Haynes is using his fabricated setting to draw parallels to present day issues. Does he succeed? Most definitely. Is he saying anything new? Not particularly. What "Far From Heaven" really ends up being is a showcase for Julianne Moore.

Ms. Moore, visibly pregnant in her housewife's gowns, pulls out all the stops to create a rich, layered performance of raw emotion. Her Cathy Whitaker is all repression and artifice. Like the films Mr. Haynes emulates, everything has to look perfect on the surface, despite the roiling turmoil within. Ms. Moore's carefully calibrated performance and Mr. Haynes smart, well-tuned script, make the film both painful and a joy to watch. This is easily Oscar caliber work and absolutely Ms. Moore's best to date.

What did you think?

Movie title Far From Heaven
Release year 2002
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary The performances by Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid are extraordinary, the art direction is stunning and the writing/directing by Todd Haynes are outstanding. Yet somehow the whole of this portrait of the underside of 1950s Douglas Sirk movies does not add up to the sum of its parts.
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