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"Far From Heaven"

Directed by Todd Haynes.
Written by Todd Haynes.
Starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert. 
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  11/20/02


“Far From Heaven” is the work of writer/director Todd Haynes, who gave us the Ewan McGregor film “Velvet Goldmine” four years ago.  In his latest film, it seems like he has taken his sweet ol’ time and produced a quality product that really matches its 50s time period well.

“Far From Heaven” stars Julianne Moore as Kathleen, a classic housewife that seems inspired by films from the time period—very much the Mrs. Cleaver, Kathleen is a doting mother and faithful wife that is a successful homemaker and a respected member of the Hartford, CT community.  Kathleen seems to have it all going right...until she finds out that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is having “a case of the gay” by walking in on him at his office one night.  For comfort, she turns to her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert, the President on “24”) and this sparks a community-wide gossipfest that slowly destroys Kathleen’s reputation, confidence, and her family.

From the previews, I really felt like this film was going to be a slow drama.  In fact, Haynes has done such a beautiful job of emulating films from the 50s—from the amazing production design to the somewhat-cheesy dialogue to the little touches, like Moore’s entire costuming layout and the camera angles used for films of the time—that he actually has a great mix of comedy, drama and romance going for his film and it mostly works.  Wow, Julianne Moore, folks.  Once again she is great but in this film, I don’t think I have ever been more impressed with her versatility than now.  I just watched “Hannibal” again the other day and while not a great film, Moore is great as Clarice Starling.  She just seems so different from film to film, and if you were to watch “Boogie Nights”, then “The Big Lebowski” and then “Far From Heaven”, I think you would appreciate her skills even more.  Quaid is great, and in the same year as his performance in “The Rookie”, it seems like he is making a nice little comeback for himself.  Haysbert continues to impress on his career following his great role last year in “24”, and the supporting cast of “Far From Heaven” is very good, mostly led by Patricia Clarkson as Kathleen’s best friend and fellow caterer.

The star here in “Far From Heaven” is clearly the production design.  Haynes has a film that seems to ease into almost every single shot, from the lush foliage in autumn to sweeping shots of the houses in Hartford to beautiful visuals of the film’s stars in static shots all over town.  Just looking at shots of replica 1950s automobiles sitting on the street is great.  The visuals, when added to characters spouting phrases right out of commercials from fifty years, gives you the feeling that you are sitting in an America from many moons ago.  Plus, with the subject matter at hand—homosexuality, which was viewed as a disease back in “the old days”, and the lack of acceptance of mixed-race friendships or relationships way back when—is sure to give you something to talk about after you leave the theater.  For me, I was hit hard with the irony that fifty years later, I have gotten some of the same looks that Haysbert’s character gets when he walks into an all-white diner, for example.

The plot of “Far From Heaven” is at times predictable and meandering.  Also, I felt like the score tried too hard to provide drama in tense situations when the story was already doing that for me.  Plus, the film—obviously in its attempts to feel like a period piece—has many over-the-top scenes with its characters’ reactions to the Moore/Haysbert appearances in public, and that became a little tiring after a while.  But, “Far From Heaven” is a great film that was very enjoyable in a lot of ways, and it is a great film for the whole family to try to hit because of its lack of profanity, sexual references and violence.  Mm-hmm!

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09