Monday, April 5, 2010

Books And Other Arts Film Review: Far From Heaven

Movie poster image courtesy of Wikimedia and Grandpasfootsoldier

The suburb of Hartford Connecticut in the late 1950's is the setting for this visually splendid film, directed by Todd Haynes. The use of color in this film is simply stunning. When the film opens in autumn, the screen is filled with rich, earthy tones---corals, oranges, greens and browns are a treat to the eye. The visual delight belies the secrets in this small town.

Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is a successful homemaker, wife, and mother of two children. Her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), is an executive. Their domestic Sybil (Viola Davis) completes this picture of domestic bliss---but pictures aren't always true to life.

One evening while Frank is "working late", Cathy decides to deliver dinner to his office. Entering his darkened office unannounced, she finds him passionately kissing another man. She leaves, and when Frank arrives home, he tells her he had a "problem" years ago that he'd erroneously thought was over. After speaking with Cathy, he decides to enter psychotherapy. His therapist tells him that very few men who seek "conversion" to heterosexuality are successful.

Cathy is overwrought with shame and confusion. She feels she has found a friend in another "outsider", Raymond Deagan, who is taking over for his late father as gardener to the Whitakers. Raymond owns a plant shop, is college-educated, a single father who had become a widower some years earlier, and oh, yes, is African-American. Just being seen with Raymond, Cathy becomes the talk of the town, and all gossip is viciously directed toward implying that her relationship with Raymond is much more than it actually is. (Although there is no denying there is a chemistry between Cathy and Raymond, they do not act on it.)

My biggest complaint about this film is the under-development of Dennis Quaid's character, Frank. I wanted to know a bit more about his life prior to meeting Cathy, and how he came to decide to marry her, and a bit more about his inability to supress his true nature and desires. These avenues are, alas, never explored in the film.

Acting by Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert, who portrays Raymond, is very good. Patricia Clarkson (the hardest-working actress in Hollywood) as Cathy's best friend, Eleanor, is really exceptional. Viola Davis' small role doesn't give her a great deal to work with, but she turns in a solid performance, and Dennis Quaid does convince us he is indeed conflicted and tormented.

As stated, the film is visually as perfect as you could possibly imagine, although there seems to be some incongruity. Connecticut seems to have very little snow at Christmas, and in a pivotal scene outside of Raymond's home, we see flowers blooming in winter. (The character is a talented gardener, but even talent can't win over a typical New England winter!) While the plot hits the right notes in terms of expressing the racial divide in the country and the homophobic undercurrent of society, the thinly-drawn character of one of the most important people in the film leaves it lacking.

1 comment:

  1. I was never interested in seeing this film when it came out. Partly , I think, because Dennis Quaid has ceased to be of interest to me. . I have seen him in a few things where he over-acted to the point of ruining the film for me. Julianne Moore makes odd choices with her films , doesn't she? She never seems to be afraid to try something new .. I think she is brilliant and I love the fact that she is obviously not a 90 lb anorexic :)