Far From Heaven

Stars:    Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn
Director:   Todd Haynes
Screenwriter:   Todd Haynes

Take an episode of the 1950’s Leave it To Beaver TV show and cross it with the formerly taboo subjects of interracial relationships and homosexuality and you’ll have a good idea how Far From Heaven was fashioned.

Writer-Director Todd Haynes takes us back to the fifties with all its stilted conventions of a upper middle class suburbia, as depicted in numerous melodramas of that period, and tosses in two good ringers, but its these very conventions, the period trappings that disrupt the dramatic impact of the story being told. The actors are superb; they’ll take you where you need to go, then smack, in comes the overdone hair, the caked on makeup, the pouffy high fashion, color-coordinated wardrobe, the picture-perfect house decor, the kids from another planet, the autumn-hued cinematography, and most notably Elmer Bernstein’s weepy melodramatic score, to remind you that this is an anachronism beyond what a contemporary audience needs to bear.

Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid play Cathy and Frank Whitaker, a supposedly happily married couple with two perfect children in Hartford, Connecticut in 1957. Their relationship becomes strained when Cathy discovers Frank’s homosexuality and she then turns to her soft-spoken gardener, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), for comfort. Frank, who should be the last person to complain about anything, takes her befriending of a black man as personal betrayal, particularly since their conservative community has already begun to gossip. The film ever so neatly depicts the ravages of their dysfunctional marriage and the effects of wholesale bigotry while being hidden behind the stiff upper lips of people whose lot in life is pretense.

Also features: Patricia Clarkson as Cathy’s friend Eleanor, Viola Davis as the Whitaker’s housemaid Sybil and James Rebhorn as Dr. Bowman.

Lotta says high marks go for the look if all anybody wanted out of this film is a replica of one kind of past filmmaking; great production design, for sure; the acting is good as is the direction. Truthfully, I could appreciate the film for it’s well appointed style. I’m just not sure there’s any real point to it all.

Reviewed 12/1/02