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Movie Review

Pleasantville is a story about a brother and sister who are "zapped" into the small-town world of a black and white television show. Once there, the changes they introduce to that staid environment gradually cause the people and their surroundings to turn from black and white into color.

Usually, the thing that changes a person into color is a highly emotional act, outburst or situation. In the early stages in particular, sex outside of marriage and masturbation are the typical catalysts for the change. Later, acts of violence, passion, loss and rage trigger the change.

So many conflicting messages are presented in Pleasantville that viewers are left with little emotional impact at the end of the film. For instance, when the more "conservative" townsfolk object to the introduction of color into their lives, they are compared with those who objected to the Negroes being integrated into American life. But African Americans were persecuted for what they could not control, in Pleasantville, the "coloreds" are persecuted for what they can control (sound familiar?). Also, when a local soda jerk paints on his storefront window (in color) a nude rendering of a local woman with whom he is having an affair, the "intolerant" townspeople throw objects through the window to remove the offending art. Are they objecting to the "color" or are they objecting to the nudity? Viewers are left to answer that themselves, but by introducing the confusion of "pornography," the filmmaker effectively clouds his illustration.

Language is typical for a PG-13 film. The f-word is used once. The s-word several times. The use of "oh god" is frequent to the point of distraction. Additionally, most of the swearing is done by the teenagers.

A non-explicit depiction of teens having sex in cars on "Lovers Lane" is unfortunate, and an awkwardly intimate—but still not explicit—depiction of a mother masturbating in her bathtub is uncalled for as well.

Change (morality changes) and absolute tolerance are the watchwords of Pleasantville. With "color" comes newness, adventure, education, love, lust, life and danger. Black and white means dull, dreary, uneventful and "conservative." God did in fact make humans with the will to choose, but this film paints morality and values as "black and white" and immorality and danger as "color." Unfortunate messages in a film billed as a "feel good" family film.

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Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy


Gary Ross ( )


New Line Cinema



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Steven Isaac

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