on June 10, 2004
Director Todd Haynes is to be commended in his approach to FAR FROM HEAVEN. A throwback to the 50's weepers like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, BACK STREET and IMITATION OF LIFE, he wisely chose not to parody or ridicule them; he lovingly made this movie in homage to those films. The cinematography is lush and gorgeous; Elmer Bernstein's score is appropriately romantic and melodramatic; it really looks like the fifties.
Julianne Moore's performance is letter perfect: she has the Susan Hayward/Lana Turner style down to a pat, but infuses it with a deep passion and strength. Many times her dialogue with her husband Frank and her children seems so Donna Reedish, but once we understand just how manipulated she has been, we can understand it. Only in her scenes with her gardener, Raymond, do we see the woman Moore could have been.
Dennis Quaid matches Moore's performance with his portrayal of Frank, the husband who is cheating on her---with other men. His internal anguish, guilt, and shame are hidden well at first, but when he breaks down, there is an honest gut-wrenching catharsis.
Dennis Haysbert plays Raymond, the gardener, who uses his quiet strength and empathy to show Moore the true meaning of friendship and love. Of course, in the fifties a romance for these two is unthinkable so we're left with a bittersweet resolution to this.
Rounding out the cast is Patricia Clarkson, who plays Moore's "closest and dearest friend" who is there for her when it comes to adjusting to life without Frank, but cannot tolerate the thought that Moore is having an affair with a black man.
So many reverse standards in this film: for instance, when Quaid hears rumors that his wife is messing around with Haysbert, he is furious...odd isn't it, that it's okay for him to break a sexual taboo, but not her.
FAR FROM HEAVEN doesn't have a crucial showdown scene, and the ending is pretty straightforward and dry, so it's not what one would call a happy ending.
Still, it's a very well made movie and Haynes and crew should be proud of this accomplishment.
on May 8, 2004
This movie plays in the 50's and the atmosphere of that period is brilliantly portrayed. The exaggerated retro-font of the film title is already one indication, and consequently the screen is filled with old-timer cars, typical house interiors and much more that points to the 50's. Some might find the world Haynes creates more like a doll-house: the environment is almost too autumnal and the streetcars are too new. But he nevertheless manages to create a very striking sphere.
But it is the storyline and the characters above all that give this 50's-atmosphere. The -on first sight 'perfect'- couple of Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) struggles with taboos from that era: Frank has a coming-out as homosexual, after which Cathy falls in love with the black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). Cathy discovers her husband kissing in a room with another man, and the mighty gossip circuit of the town soon tells Frank about the adventures of his wife. Not surprisingly, this situation results in trouble for their family.
There is a clear message about the morals of the 50's: Cathy's friends suddenly aren't very good friends anymore as soon as they hear about her friendship with a black person. Cathy herself clearly doesn't feel very much at ease between her friends, while she gets completely in her element when Raymond is nearby. This Raymond is an interesting character, if only because he is played by Dennis Haysbert. While he is here a simple black gardener who meets a lot of racism from his surrounding, the same actor plays the role of the first black president of the USA in '24'! Talk about changes! The character of Raymond may be a little too 'perfect', as others have already pointed out, but it contrasts nicely with the image of gutter rats that is attached to many people in Cathy's social environment.
The cast here does its job very nicely: Moore is great in her performance of a typical 50's woman who slowly becomes more adventurous and 'human'. She plays merely restrained, as if to make her role not too stereotypical. That certainly succeeded. Husband (in the movie) Quaid is another seemingly normal person with unexpected sides (his being gay) and is terrific as a tormented and desperate man. Haysbert makes a very convincing case as the sympathetic gardener, with his seemingly relaxed acting that makes his character Raymond almost cosy. Also, the gossip aunts are irritating to watch and that's exactly how they were meant.
Some could find the film a little too compact, and I certainly wish the director had taken more time to shed more light on the relationship between Raymond and Cathy. Same for the other relationship: Frank's gay mate is a bit cartoonish and this aspect could certainly have been worked out better. The film didn't leave me unsatisfied, far from it, but I think the story would have benefited from a broader, longer approach. But that criticism shouldn't keep you from seeing this very worthwhile and enduring movie. The sometimes 'implied' acting sheds a special light on the dramatic storyline and the atmosphere just breathes the 50's. Certainly recommended.
on January 17, 2004
As has been said in previous posts this movie works on different levels. First of all it shows the life of a decent housewife who is active in the social scene of Hartford, CN. But is also a story about a businessman who finds out he's gay and about Civil Rights in the 50's.
The movie looks like it could have been made in the real 1950's. The music, the opening fond of the title, the credits in the end. It also seems to be a great ode to the fifties.
One very visual part of the movie is color, set in the fall in New England, warm natural colors can be seen everywhere. In the trees, the grass, the cars and even the clothes of the people. It is amazing how in many shots Cathy wears the exact same color of clothing, as if they are all the same in color, both skin and clothing. The storyline however tells us that this is definitely a new film.
The persons are charicatures I think but with a twist. The hardworking succesful businessman is gay, the black gardener watches modern art and the beautiful housewife is stuck with a gay husband and is in love with a black gardener.
It's a fun movie, I recommend it.
on December 22, 2003
Being born in 1970's, I am unable to remember the 1950's. And being a central-European, with no knowledge about what Douglas Sirk films were like, I had no preconceptions about "Far From Heaven". I took it as plainly as possible, ready to enjoy the cinematic treat many critics purported this to be. In the end, I must say I was vaguely disappointed. Although the movie has many redeeming qualities.
"Far From Heaven" certainly recreates setting of 1957 with striking sense of detail. From the beginning you have to but admire exquisite colors of cinematography, nice production design and beautiful music by Elmer Bernstein ("The Age Of Innocence"). The story unfolds when a typical mid-class housewife Cathy Whitaker (played by Julianne Moore) discovers that her handsome husband Frank leads a double life -- the other being homosexual -- something that probably was missing from the 1950's film productions. Cathy finds solace around their Afro-American gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert, a distillation of Nat King Cole and Sidney Poitier), before nasty gossip -- and unsuccessful 'treatment' of Frank -- mark the beginning of the end of Cathy's life as she'd known it.
The viewer of course must feel sympathy with Cathy (merited also by Moore's flawless performance), who is portrayed as conventional, yet inside a very strong woman. The storyline itself flows conventionally, there's absolutely nothing surprising in the plot. Director Todd Haynes said he had wanted to shoot a movie about 1950's the way it couldn't be made in 1950's. This art-for-art approach basically works very well, but as a result the film -- perhaps on purpose -- lacks real, deep emotions and its impact on some viewers may be lukewarm at best.
on December 21, 2003
Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine) directs a talented cast in his subversive homage to a genre of 1950s films (primarily those by Douglas Sirk) that featured mature women in socially painful situations.
Julianne Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, a homemaker with a seemingly perfect life -- successful businessman husband, 2 kids, great house, hired help, coterie of friends, etc. But all that begins to unravel as 1957 approaches and Cathy discovers that her husband (Dennis Quaid) has a secret that could destroy the life they've built together. When she turns to her black landscaper (Dennis Haysbert) for friendship and comfort, she finds her acquaintances and neighbors are not very enlightened about race relations. Like the films to which it pays tribute, Far From Heaven presents an idyllic setting populated by people making big choices at dramatic moments, living lives in stark contrast to their surroundings. The couple's children are invisible and easily disposed of -- "Watch the children, would you, Sybill?" -- in an era pined for by particular conservatives but remembered by many of us as a time of genteel sordidness and ugly hypocrisy, when race, gender, sexuality, legitimacy, income, career, kith, kin and company neatly boxed off your expected behavior, some were far more equal than others, and tolerance was not listed in anyone's book of virtues.
This is a quiet film about appearances, restraint and social pressure. On first viewing it, I enjoyed it but didn't think it was brilliant, though I loved the over-the-top look of the film, so to me it succeeded more as an homage than as a film in its own right. And committed tribute it is -- with the look, the sets, the shots, the plot, the music, that never veer from their inspiration. I did come to appreciate the film more on watching the accompanying features and listening to the director's commentary.
Sets and costumes are sumptuous and the lighting is quite dramatic, darker than West Wing with pools of emerald and cobalt lights saturating nearly every interior shot. It's jarring to watch the making-of feature and see that these scenes were filmed in normal light during the day. Most of the exteriors were shot in gorgeous New Jersey locations. NB: note the films being played at the local theatre at different points in the film.
DVD extras include a commentary track by Haynes, a Q&A with Haynes and Julianne Moore (who was pregnant during shooting), a trailer, brief production notes, cast & director info, an 11-1/2 minute making-of feature, and the Sundance Channel's Anatomy of a Scene which featured the Whitaker's party scene, a social climax marked by confrontational undercurrents. The film can be heard in English or French, and subtitles are available in English, French or Spanish.
This would be a lovely double feature with All that Heaven Allows or Magnificent Obsession.
on November 29, 2003
I've never been disappointed by a Julianne Moore performance, but I have also never been as impressed as I was with her performance in "Far From Heaven." For this film, she turns in a remarkably restrained and subtle piece of acting, one that puts me in mind of Emma Thompson's excellent work in "The Remains of the Day."
Moore plays homemaker Cathy Whitaker, mother to 2 children and wife to Frank Whitaker (played by Dennis Quaid). The setting is the 1950's in Connecticut. Racial tensions are an undercurrent to the entire film, but the main subject is Cathy herself, and how she deals with growing difficulties both in her marriage and outside of it.
Prevalent in the film, almost a character in itself, is the sense of the 1950's. As the film begins, the Whitakers have an almost idyllic quality, like the Cleavers from "Leave it to Beaver." As the story goes on, though, the perfect facade begins to crumble, and we see some very real problems under the surface. It is done skillfully, and seems to be indicative of the '50's in general, this sense of a perfect mask, hiding any number of problems.
Another excellent performance is found in Dennis Haysbert, as Raymond Deagan, the Whitakers' African-American gardener. As Cathy struggles with the difficulties in her marriage and in her life, she develops a bond with Raymond, a bond which makes things tragically worse for her in the racially-restrictive atmosphere of the 1950's.
The way the story progresses makes it clear that Cathy is not a racist, but her circumstances force her into considering racial motivations for some of her decisions later in the film. The real tragedy in "Far From Heaven" is actually the tragedy of America in the 1950's -- there were many who realized that racial equality was important, but the society at large made it almost impossible for them to act on their beliefs.
Perhaps my only complaint of the film is that it tries to do a little bit too much. The story of Cathy and her internal conflicts would have been good enough, but late in the film other conflicts are introduced for Raymond and for Frank which do more to distract from Cathy's story than adding to it. It's not out of the realm of possibility for these conflicts to happen, but it's definitely a stretch, and it is at these points when the film loses a bit of focus.
Nevertheless, "Far From Heaven" is a film filled with wonderfully subtle performances, and expresses the feel of America in the 1950's very well. Fifties America was a lovely shell of peace and prosperity, but unfortunately that shell was fragile, and masked a multitude of sins and conflicts for those who lived through them. "Far From Heaven" portrays both the shell and the conflicts beneath it almost perfectly, and reveals a great deal about the time. It is a film, and a subject, worthy of attention.
on October 1, 2003
This movie evokes memories of the grand melodramams that Lana Turner, Susan Hayward, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter (to name a few) generally had a field day with in the 50s. Reduced to the sexist and unfair misnomer of "women's movies" they are classic tear-jerker fare.
The appeal of this movie lies in its presentation of two issues that remain quite powerful today: racism and sexual repression. This gives one a glimpse of how these two subjects may have been handled together via this genre in the 50s.
There is absolutely no question about the performances. Julianne Moore is simply exquisite as the tortured Cathy whose whole world eventually crumbles before her eyes. Dennis Quaid does a wonderful job but I suspect this is probably his bravest role as opposed to his strongest performance. Dennis Haysbert is, as usual, quite good. His performance is perfectly nuanced and perfectly predictable.
This movie however, cries out for a spoof from Carol Burnett. She could have a field day spoofing the conflicted soul of the quintessenital white woman whose life is crumbling around her. Actually, I think the movie is just hysterical. There was one scene where Cathy spies an unknown black man (Dennis Haysbert, the gardener)walking in her garden. She is about to be interviewed for the society page and the interviewer sees him too and both women look as if they have seen Bigfoot or something. And for those of you who think that it was rare for a college-educated black man in the 50s to be working as a gardener, you need to get a grip. That was infinitely more common that you would care to think. Kudos to the production/costume designers - this movie totally captures the texture and mood of the times.
This movie stays true to the formula of the 50s melodarams with the traditional wordless goodbyes complete with white gloves, tears, loaded looks, and smashing cymbals in the background for maximum effect all inteneded to give you the distinct impression that while no clear solutions are available, at least we are making steps to change society as a whole. (AND we're gonna look good while we're doing it too!!!!)
However, when you fast forward to 2003, it could be a real shock to see that we haven't come nearly as far as we would like to believe.
on September 15, 2003
Okay! I know I'm going to catch flack for this one, but the 'genius' of 50's melodrama director, Douglas Sirk, has always escaped me. There, I said it. "Far From Heaven" is director, Todd Haynes attempt at emulating 'Sirk'. In that respect, the film succeeds. It is riddled with lush photography and set in the 1950's - which helps. But as a film of today, it miserably flops. Like Sirk's "Written on the Wind", "Far From Heaven" concerns a dutiful wife, Kathy (on this occasion played by Julianne Moore) who discovers that her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid) is not all that he appears to be. And like Sirk's "Imitation of Life" there is a hint of tempered racial tension and interracial romance (between Raymond [Dennis Haysbert] and Kathy) that sneaks into the proceedings. But if anything, "Far from Heaven" proves that you can't go back to the well twice - as it were - and relive the past without being compared and judged inferior to it. Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid aren't very engaging as a couple and the racial undertones are played from a safe distance. Director, Todd Haynes' photography is too lush, at times appearing as garishly cartoonish - something that Sirk was never guilty of - and the plot, such as it is, seems better suited for a segment on "General Hospital" than mainstream Hollywood film-making. Ironically, it was Sirk's influence through films like "Written on the Wind" that paved the way for television to take its cue and cultivate the soap opera on the small screen. In retrospect, that premise works. The other way around - it's an embarrassment. Besides, "Far from Heaven" plays it safe at every turn, eschewing biases and bigotry and ending on a very postmodern unhappy note that Sirk would never have approved of.
The transfer perfectly captures Haynes' intent. Colors are rich, vibrant and nicely balanced. Black and contrast levels are accurately rendered. There is a considerable amount of edge enhancement and some shimmering of fine details. No pixelization though. The soundtrack is 5.1 and adequately rendered. The extras include a very self-congratulatory featurette in which Hayne's explains how he did Douglas Sirk one better. Like Attenborough's remake of "Miracle on 34th Street" or Van Sant's shot for shot remake of "Psycho" - it simply can't be done! I wish Hollywood would realize this.
on August 19, 2003
If you used Doc Brown's time machine and brought someone from the 50's to watch "Far from heaven", this immaginary time traveller would notice no difference. Todd Haynes' best film so far is a complete and very accurate re-creation of a movie from the half-century, most notedly Douglas Sirk's dramas and romances. Figurine, cinematography, art, direction techniques, sound score, etc. everything was made to provide the viewers with the feeling of fifty years ago. "Far from heaven" is indeed very well produced and researched, without being annoying and out of date.
Julianne Moore, once again acting with perfection, is Cathy Whitaker, the wife of a television-set company executive, mother of two children, owner of an excellent house with beautiful gardens. In other words, the typical successful family of Hartford, Connecticut. But then, she suddenly finds her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid, very good) is gay. Yes, he likes men, an though they try, in many different ways, to cure his "disease" togheter, the always-smiling Cathy powerlessly watches Frank drift away. Then, she finds confort talking and unwillingly falling in love with Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), the black and enlightened gardender of her house. Obviously, this is not seen with good eyes among her circle of friends .
So, as you've already noticed, "Far from heaven" is a movie about a hypocrit society, and about prejudice, in a double front: blacks and homossexuals. We have to remember, this is New England, where "people know better than people in the south", so blacks are tolerated and treated with a distant respect. No riots, no confrontations. But when Cathy is seen talking with the black gardener in a vernisage, the high-class society is shocked. Even to the point that Frank, who is "surely ill - he's gay" shouts at her wife and asks her "what is she trying to do with his life?". This is the subtetly of "Far from heaven". The problem is, this movie is too subtle.
Dealing with a level of prejudice like this, in a society that was perhaps at the top of its hypocrital fit, "Far from heaven" could be a little more agressive, more in-your-face. Of course, the movie would loose part of its beauty, but the way it is it seems a little pointless. I left the theater with the impression that I'd watched a terrific movie, but there was something missing. Or maybe I didn't understand what Haynes was trying to show. Maybe he's saying: "Some lives are really pointless and have no way to get better", like that famous Jack Nicholson's character: "What if this is as good as it gets?". But I don't think like that, and that's why in my opinion "Far from heaven" is lacking in obviousness.
But a great movie nonetheless. Good script, amazing visuals (pay attention to the sets of trees and leaves), and top-notch performances by Julianne ("the forgotten") Moore and Dennis Quaid.
on May 26, 2003
When I saw this movie in the theater last fall, I loved it.
The director exaggerated everything in the film in a faux 50's styles-the clothes, the sets, the cars, the film graphics, the music-and on the big screen, it made a huge impact me. I am familiar with the Douglas Sirk movies on which he based this film. I found it a very powerful experience to go to a theater and see for the first time a movie in the style of rerun staples on Turner Classic Movies.
Yet this experience did not translate for me on the small screen. I might as well have been watching a Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman movie on TCM.
The film's plot is powerful and profound: the marriage of a perfect 50's couple in Hartford, CT, is threatened by his homosexuality and her friendship with a black college-educated gardner. Dennis Quaid, in the role of the tortured, gay husband, turned in the finest performance of the year in a supporting role in my book. The dvd is worth it just for his performance. He haunted me. Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert are also wonderful in their roles.
Haynes uses the technique of exaggeration as a means to examine the artifice and the lives of those individuals in 50's. As other reviewers have noted in the press, not everyone in 1957 drove a 1957 car, had everything in their home purchased that year in a 1957 style, wore 1957 clothes etc. People then, as today, drove older clothes, had a mismash of furniture and styles in their homes, and a wardrobe of new and old. Yet this technique, while obviously artificial, highlights the emphasis on appearance of the era. Once again, I loved it in the movie, I found it less impressive on the small screen. I also wasn't overwhelemed by the director's commentary-I thought that I would get more from him.
Still an important, intelligent movie that most serious moviegoers should see at some point.