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Pleasantville (1998) – Movie Review

Pleasantville movie poster

Written & Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels

My Advice: Matinee.

The real world sucks. We all know it’s true. And David (Maguire) is so clued into this fact that he retreats into reruns of his favorite show, Pleasantville, which he watches religiously. No Pleasantville trivia can get past him. One night, due to an altercation with his trendy MTV-watching sister Jennifer (Witherspoon), their television is broken. Neither can get to the shows they want to watch. Just in time, a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) shows up and fixes the TV. He fixes the two of them as well, setting them up to be zapped into Pleasantville, playing the part of the son and daughter. What happens when imperfect people are injected into a sterile perfect world? And what’s the definition of perfect anyway?

[ad#longpost]This is what the film begins with, and very sneakily passes itself off as a comedy with maybe an issue or two it would like to address. Like Ross’ previous gigs, screenwriting Dave and Big, this film tricks you and takes you on a much broader ride–and like those two aforementioned films, it works. I can’t say too much without ruining the surprise, but it’s a treat. The effects, which you’re aware of if you’ve seen a trailer, are quite impressive and compliment the story beautifully. Maguire and Witherspoon are good as the displaced teens, but the adults carry the day. Macy and Allen prove once again why they are deserving of their respective places on the acting pantheon. Macy’s “Honey, I’m home” scene is hysterical, and Allen’s long-suffering wife is spot-on. Nominations for both, please. Jeff Daniels holds his own as well as the soda shop owner who longs to be more. Very nice performance there. And damn if I don’t really miss J.T. Walsh, character actor extraordinaire, this being the late actor’s last film. He will be sorely missed by all. And of course it’s always refreshing to see Don Knotts, who is obviously having a great time.

Although it gets a little on the preachy side toward the end, its sense of humor and fine performances not to mention those incredible B&W/color effects help this to be one of the year’s best. Take our advice and go catch it.

Click here to buy it on DVD from Amazon.