Far from Heaven is one of the most stylistically perfect films made in a long time and it renews my faith in why we go to the movies. The costume and décor belong in art museums. The acting is impeccable, including a stellar performance by Julianne Moore as Cathy, the perfect homemaker with a bundle of repressed energy that could light up a Christmas tree. Far From Heaven is far from perfect but its pretty close to recreating the disturbed family setting that precipitated the love generation, draft dodgers and flower power of the 1960s.
Todd Haynes film, in the spirit of postmodernist recycling, tries to recreate something that was perfect in its imperfection, the melodrama of the Hollywood studio system. At first I thought Haynes made this film to show that we are indeed reverting to the Cold WarMcCarthy era morale of the late 1950s as the reappearance of family values and repression rears itself in American life? However, the film takes a turn into 21st century melodrama in retrograde. This is why Far From Heaven works.
Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid are Mr. and Mrs. Magnatech, the model couple. Frank is an ace salesman, Cathy, a housewife with interests like the PTA. They have two beautiful children, a big house and an African-American maid ( Viola Davis). In reality, Frank is an alcoholic and has a history of yelling at Cathy and the children. In meta reality Mrs. Magnatech is pink, with African-American friendly and her alcoholic husband, is also pink, as in gay. He seeks help for heterosexual and Cathy suggests a trip to Miami where everything is pink and where they can rekindle their love but things go haywire. During Franks rebalancing Cathy strikes up a friendship with Raymond, (Dennis Haysbert) the gardener , an African-American. In turn, Kathy is ostracized by the town folk.
Tackling the themes of racism and homophobia are a tall order. These were the themes that the 1950s melodrama could never treat with the awareness we have today. This makes Far From Heaven the gem that it is. By using this old genre, we are able to understand the myth of perfection involved in preserving the false values of the nuclear family and community. Next week Tod Haynes and Julianne Moore answer questions about the film at the Venice International Film Festival in September.
This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, Venice Italy
© 2002 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11-01
Far From Heaven
USA - 2002