Pleasantville is a 1998 comedy-drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Gary Ross. It stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, and Reese Witherspoon, with Don Knotts, Paul Walker, and Jane Kaczmarek in supporting roles. The story centers on two siblings who wind up trapped in a 1950s TV show, set in a small Midwest town, where residents are seemingly perfect. In their attempts to fit in, the two become more aware of social issues such as racism and freedom of speech.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gary Ross|
|Written by||Gary Ross|
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Edited by||William Goldenberg|
Larger Than Life Productions
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$49.8 million|
The film was J.T. Walsh's final performance, and was dedicated to his memory.
David and his twin sister Jennifer lead very different high-school social lives. Jennifer is shallow and extroverted; David is introverted and spends most of his time watching television. One evening while their mother is away, they fight over the TV. Jennifer wants to watch a concert on MTV, but David wants to watch a marathon of Pleasantville, a black and white 1950s sitcom about the idyllic Parker family. During the fight, the remote control breaks, and the TV cannot be turned on manually.
A mysterious TV repairman shows up, quizzes David about Pleasantville, then gives him a strange remote control. The repairman leaves, and David and Jennifer resume fighting. However, they are transported into the Parkers' black and white Pleasantville living room. David tries to reason with the repairman (with whom he communicates through the Parkers' television), but he succeeds only in chasing him away. David and Jennifer must now pretend they are Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the son and daughter on the show.
David and Jennifer witness the wholesome nature of the town, such as a group of firemen rescuing a cat from a tree. David tells Jennifer they must stay in character and not disrupt the lives of the town's citizens, who do not notice any difference between Bud and Mary Sue, and David and Jennifer. To keep the show's plot, Jennifer dates a boy from high school but has sex with him, a concept unknown to him and everyone else in town.
Slowly, Pleasantville begins changing from black and white to color, including flowers and the faces of people who have experienced bursts of emotion and personal transformation. David introduces Mr. Johnson, owner of the burger joint/soda fountain where Bud works, to colorful modern art via a book from the library, sparking in him an interest in painting. Johnson and Betty Parker fall in love, causing her to leave home, throwing George Parker, Bud and Mary Sue's father, into confusion. The only people who remain unchanged are the town fathers, led by the mayor, Big Bob, who sees the changes eating at the values of Pleasantville. They resolve to do something about their increasingly independent wives and rebellious children.
As the townsfolk become more colorful, a ban on "colored" people is initiated in public venues. Eventually, a riot is touched off by a nude painting of Betty (painted by Johnson) on the window of Mr. Johnson's soda fountain. The soda fountain is destroyed, books are burned, and people who are "colored" are harassed in the street. As a reaction, the town fathers announce rules preventing people from visiting the library, playing loud music, or using paint other than black, white, or grey. In protest, David and Mr. Johnson paint a colorful mural on a brick wall, depicting their world, prompting their arrest. Brought to trial in front of the town, David and Mr. Johnson defend their actions, arousing enough anger and indignation in Big Bob that the mayor becomes colored as well.
Having seen Pleasantville change irrevocably, Jennifer stays to finish her education, while David uses the remote control to return to the real world.
- Tobey Maguire as David/Bud Parker
- Reese Witherspoon as Jennifer/Mary Sue Parker
- Jeff Daniels as Bill Johnson
- Joan Allen as Betty Parker
- William H. Macy as George Parker
- J. T. Walsh as Big Bob
- Paul Walker as Skip Martin
- Marley Shelton as Margaret Henderson
- Giuseppe Andrews as Howard
- Jenny Lewis and Marissa Ribisi as Christin and Kimmy
- Jane Kaczmarek as David and Jennifer's mother
- Don Knotts as the TV repairman
- Kevin Connors and Natalie Ramsey as the real Bud and Mary Sue Parker
- David Tom as Whitey
- Dawn Cody, Maggie Lawson, and Andrea Taylor as Betty Jean, Lisa Anne, and Peggy Jane
- Justin Nimmo as Mark Davis
This was the first time that a new feature film was created by scanning and digitizing from recorded film footage for the purpose of removing or manipulating colors. The black-and-white meets color world portrayed in the movie was filmed entirely in color, and in all approximately 163,000 frames of 35 mm footage were scanned, in order to selectively desaturate and contrast adjust digitally. The scanning was done in Los Angeles by Cinesite utilizing a Spirit DataCine for scanning at 2K resolution. and a MegaDef Colour Correction System from Pandora International.
Cameraman Brent Hershman's death, when he fell asleep driving home after a 19-hour workday on the set of the film, resulted in a wrongful death suit, claiming that New Line Cinema, New Line Productions and Juno Pix Inc. were responsible for the death as a result of the lengthy work hours imposed on the set.
The film is dedicated to Hershman, as well as to director Ross's mother, Gail, and actor J. T. Walsh, who also died before the film's release.
Shortly before and during the film's release, an online contest was held to visit the real Pleasantville, Iowa. Over 30,000 people entered. The winner, who remained anonymous, declined the trip, and opted to receive the $10,000 cash prize instead.
Director Gary Ross stated, "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression...That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop."
Robert Beuka says in his book SuburbiaNation, "Pleasantville is a morality tale concerning the values of contemporary suburban America by holding that social landscape up against both the Utopian and the dystopian visions of suburbia that emerged in the 1950s."
Robert McDaniel of Film & History described the town as the perfect place, "It never rains, the highs and lows rest at 72 degrees, the fire department exists only to rescue treed cats, and the basketball team never misses the hoop." However, McDaniel says, "Pleasantville is a false hope. David's journey tells him only that there is no 'right' life, no model for how things are 'supposed to be'."
Warren Epstein of The Gazette wrote, "This use of color as a metaphor in black-and-white films certainly has a rich tradition, from the over-the-rainbow land in The Wizard of Oz to the girl in the red dress who made the Holocaust real for Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. In Pleasantville, color represents the transformation from repression to enlightenment. People—and their surroundings—change from black-and-white to color when they connect with the essence of who they really are."
Pleasantville earned $8.9 million during its opening weekend.
Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars calling it "one of the best and most original films of the year". Janet Maslin wrote that its "ingenious fantasy" has "seriously belabored its once-gentle metaphor and light comic spirit." Peter M. Nichols, judging the film for its child-viewing worthiness, jokingly wrote in The New York Times that the town of Pleasantville "makes Father Knows Best look like Dallas." Joe Leydon of Variety called it "a provocative, complex and surprisingly anti-nostalgic parable wrapped in the beguiling guise of a commercial high-concept comedy." He commented that some storytelling problems emerge late in the film, but wrote that "Ross is to be commended for refusing to take the easy way out."
Entertainment Weekly wrote a mixed review: "Pleasantville is ultramodern and beautiful. But technical elegance and fine performances mask the shallowness of a story as simpleminded as the '50s TV to which it condescends; certainly it's got none of the depth, poignance, and brilliance of The Truman Show, the recent TV-is-stifling drama that immediately comes to mind." The film also received a mixed review from Christian Answers, but was criticized because "On a surface level, the message of the film appears to be "morality is black and white and pleasant, but sin is color and better," because often through the film the Pleasantvillians become color after sin (adultery, premarital sex, physical assault, etc...). In one scene in particular, a young woman shows a brightly colored apple to young (and yet uncolored) David, encouraging him to take and eat it. Very reminiscent of the Genesis’s account of the fall of man."
Time Out New York reviewer Andrew Johnston (critic) observed, "Pleasantville doesn't have the consistent internal logic that great fantasies require, and Ross just can't resist spelling everything out for the dim bulbs in the audience. That's a real drag, because the film's fundamental premise--crossing America's nostalgia fixation with Pirandello and the Oz/Narnia/Wonderland archetype--is so damn cool, the film really should have been a masterpiece."
Jesse Walker, writing a retrospective in the January 2010 issue of Reason, argued that the film was misunderstood as a tale of kids from the 1990s bringing life into the conformist world of the 1950s. Walker points out that the supposedly outside influences changing the town of Pleasantville—the civil rights movement, J. D. Salinger, modern art, premarital sex, and rockabilly–were all present in the 1950s. Pleasantville "contrasts the faux '50s of our TV-fueled nostalgia with the social ferment that was actually taking place while those sanitized shows first aired."
Pleasantville received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "Certified Fresh" 84% rating from 94 reviews, an average rating of 7.6/10, with the critical consensus: "Filled with lighthearted humor, timely social commentary, and dazzling visuals, Pleasantville is an artful blend of subversive satire and well-executed Hollywood formula." Metacritic assigned a score of 71 based on 32 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film won the following accolades:
- Saturn Awards (1998)
- Best Performance by a Younger Actor/Actress—Tobey Maguire
- Best Supporting Actress—Joan Allen
- Boston Society of Film Critics Award (1998)
- Best Supporting Actor—William H. Macy
- Best Supporting Actress—Joan Allen
The film was nominated for the following achievements:
|Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||October 13, 1998|
|Label||New Line Records|
The soundtrack features music from the 1950s and 1960s such as "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent, "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and "At Last" by Etta James. The main score was composed by Randy Newman; he received an Oscar nomination in the original music category. A score release is also in distribution, although the suite track is only available on the standard soundtrack. Among the Pleasantville DVD "Special Features" is a music-only feature with commentary by Randy Newman.
The music video for Fiona Apple's version of "Across the Universe," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, uses the set of the diner from the film. Allmusic rated the album two and a half stars out of five.
- Fisher, Bob (November 1998). "Black & white in color". American Cinematographer: 1. Archived from the original on January 8, 2009.
Watts suggested using the Philips Spirit DataCine at Cinesite Digital Imaging in Los Angeles for converting the film to data.(full article link Archived 2015-04-19 at the Wayback Machine)
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- Epstein, Warren. "True Colors - A Small Town Blossoms when '50s and '90s collide in Pleasantville". The Gazette (Colorado Springs). Retrieved April 11, 2013.
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- "Pleasantville (1998)". Christian Answers. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
- Johnston, Andrew (October 22, 1998). "Pleasantville". Time Out New York: 97.
- Walker, Jesse (January 2010). "Beyond Pleasantville: Permissiveness wasn't born in the '60s". Reason. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
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