I was looking through different films I’d never seen before and I ran across this critically acclaimed 1998 film. I’d been aware of it for quite a while but had never seen it. I had no idea just how star studded this cast is! Reese Witherspoon, Tobey Maguire, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, William H Macy, Don Knotts, and even a young Paul Walker…. who’s unbelievably gorgeous in here! Seriously my heart stopped when he came on screen… he’s never looked better. I can’t believe I went this long without seeing this gem. It really is, for many reasons, a beautiful film.
I don’t think I’ve disliked anything Reese Witherspoon has been in, but I especially love her here. She plays a pretty shallow boy hungry teenager who is entirely self absorbed. This persona is pretty different from her usual work and I liked seeing it. She pulls it off very well, especially the comedic bits. Witherspoon really gets to shine in her scenes with Paul Walker and Joan Allen where she pretty much blows their minds with the idea of sex, which is extremely funny. Speaking of Joan Allen, I believe she’s the real star of this film. I was completely blown away and mesmerized by her performance, it’s so honest and captivating. She’s really like an innocent child and needs to be awakened to the reality of things like true happiness, sex, and not just going through the motions.
I love seeing Allen’s character discover these things and seeing her go after what she wants, and she makes you fall in love with her along the way. Jeff Daniels gives a very important performance. His character shows very clearly why Pleasantville needs to be shown what else is possible. He starts off as this amusing character that behaves like a robot that’s been programmed to do things in a very specific way. As time goes on, he comes into his own. His scenes with Joan Allen are particularly moving because of the connection between them and the significance of it all to both of their characters.
This just might be my favorite Paul Walker performance, and I say that because of the way he’s able to play this robotic like 1950s love interest. The way he behaves and delivers his lines comes across as near perfection and then as that persona changes. He has some really good comedic moments too. I just loved him here. I mean yes he’s extremely attractive but this film gives him a great chance to show off his acting chops.
Maguire has good moments too, especially towards the end when events are coming to a head, and the same goes for Macy, but want to end talking about the casting of the legendary Don Knotts. A big smile came across my face when I saw him come onscreen, not only is it wonderful to see a classic like him, but he also gives a great performance. He was good right up until the end!
There’s so much to do with a concept like this and I think it’s pretty well utilized. The comedy is clever and they play with the Leave it to Beaver style 50’s sitcom in hilarious ways. Witherspoon’s character introduces sex to her teenage love interest, something he’s not even aware of. That scene is great because as he begins to get turned on, he looks down and says he thinks he’s ill to which she responds: no that’s supposed to happen. So there’s moments of comedy like that and then there are moments such as Allen learning about sexual pleasure.
When Allen asks what sex is from Witherspoon and then she learns how to have it without her husband… the result is good for both comedic and dramatic purposes. It’s funny to see her reaction and what ends up happening when she does it but it also has dramatic significance when she finally sees color because of it. I think having that detail is so clever and beautiful in a way, her seeing reality and being introduced to one of life’s greatest pleasures has a wonderful feeling attached to it.
Another very interesting thing this film does is draw a direct analogy to racism. There are specific lines that are classic arguments for segregation and separating classes. This is all done in an organic way and I think it strengthens the film as a whole, gives it more heft. And last but certainly not least, there’s the truly stunning visuals. The black and white is well done and the way the color is introduced is just beautiful.
I highly suggest packing your bags and taking a trip to Pleasantville, you won’t regret it!