DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Pleasantville (1998)

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Pleasantville is a beautiful and imaginative comedy drama film starring Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire. It’s originality is in its story and it has the ability to captivate and en-trance you from the word go. With wonderful direction, beautiful music and excellent acting it’s no wonder the film is so critically acclaimed.

David (Maguire) and Jennifer (Witherspoon) are twins who lead entirely different high school lives. Jennifer is popular, shallow and out going while David is more of a loner who likes to watch TV all day. While their mother is out, they fight over who gets to watch what on the television. Jennifer wants to watch MTV and David wants to watch a marathon of Pleasantville, a 1950’s black and white show about the Parker family. They break the remote control in the process and have to call a repair man out to come and fix the TV for them. A strange man arrives and gives them an odd looking remote control, which they continue to fight over. While fighting they are transporting into the television and on to the show Pleasantville where they are now Bud and Mary-Sue Parker of the Parker family. At this point, everything is now in black and white and they have to live in the show, pretending to be the children in order to get back out again, or so they assume.

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They witness the wholesome feel of the town they are now living in, everyone is so kind to each other, there is no alcohol, sex, drugs, foul language or foul play. David tells wildfire Jennifer to keep her natural instincts under wraps as they have to remain in character so as not to disturb the shows plot. She can’t do this easily and ends up having sex with one of the boys from her school, something that is a brand new concept for him and everyone else in the town. The corruption Jennifer has caused starts to spread about the town as the kids start experimenting with each other and acting out of character. This spreads even further and the adults start acting in a similar way. As more and more people break free from their black and white characters, everything starts changing into colour. Flowers, trees and the people become colourful and bright. Not everyone changes however, only those who have challenged the values of Pleasantville. Those remaining in black and white are the ones who are in charge of the town and they try and regain control of the town and restore it back to its wholesome, good natured feel.  Riots, court cases and corruption ensue as the town breaks away from itself to become something new.

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It’s such a beautiful concept, that the people trapped in this well-to-do 1950’s family television show are real people, living real lives and they are forced to act in this manner that excludes them from having any fun, not that they even know what kind of fun they can have. When they start to inject a bit of colour and creativity into their own lives, the colour on the show returns. Using something as simple colour demonstrates a huge amount in terms of emotion, development, values and ideologies for these townsfolk and the introduction of banning ‘coloured’ people from certain venues is reminiscent of racism in a similar era.

Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire are so young in this film, it really shows that they were both about to embark on an interesting cinematic career – okay, they’ve both had their flops (Spiderman 2 & 3, Legally Blonde 2). Witherspoon went on to do Cruel Intentions a year after Pleasantville and Maguire did Cider House Rules. Both actors launched their careers off the back of this movie and it is so easy to see why. Not only did it launch their career but it was the beginning of the late Paul Walker’s career as well as only 3 years later he embarked on the massive Fast and Furious franchise that made him a household name.

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I recommend this film to any film lover, it’s beautifully crafted and packed with originality and is a true gem of modern cinema.

Pleasantville is shelved in the DVD ZONE at 791.43 P 

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