Far from Heaven

I haven't looked at any election news yet, having finished dinner after attending a preview screening of Far From Heaven, the new Todd Haynes film. It's set in 1958, and is like a neo-Douglas Sirk film.

Like Safe, his previous film, this one has me thinking about whether I really liked it. (I eventually decided Safe was brilliant, even though it's an excrutiating movie to sit through.)

The film pulls off the whole 50s claustrophobic suburban environment very well, to the point that I was squirming in my seat. I didn't even grow up in that world, unlike James.

In the end I think it works, but it is very melodramatic and heavy-handed in a weepy movie kind of way. The plot involves a suburban housewife (brilliantly played by Julianne Moore), whose life starts to fall apart when she catches her husband (played by Dennis Quaid) with another man. As he struggles with being homosexual, and goes to a psychiatrist, she starts to fall in love with her African-American gardener. Having grown up in the South, I found the latter story totally believable, and incredibly disturbing. In a way, I could imagine a gay white man in that world finding a way to live a decent life more easily than I could a white woman who loved a black man. James found the racism in the film rather heavy-handed, and he found it hard to believe that the North would be that bad in this era based on his experiences in Michigan and New England. As I said, having grown up in the South a generation later, I find the whole thing quite believable. If any of you reading this have an opinion on late 1950s Connecticut or New England, I would love for you to add a comment to this post.

One of the most amazing scenes in the film is when the husband and wife try to have a conversation after she has caught him in his office kissing another man. They talk around each other, not quite forming sentences, and their voices become hoarse with the strain. It's a brilliant piece of film-making. (I realize I'm using brilliant too much here.)

I think it's worth seeing, but in a way I find it a bit indulgent for a filmmaker to try to recreate a 50s film, but add the racial and sexual twists. The score is over the top, like a 50s film, but it seems ironic rather than sincere in our era. The audience -- an odd mix of New Festival members, women-in-film organizations, and random elderly ladies from the Upper West Side with tickets through Equity --- laughed at odd times, because the dialog seems so "knowing" to a modern audience.

One of the amusing lines in the film, where they talk about how "radical" Julianne Moore's character is, has one of the women she went to college with talking about her doing summer stock with "steamy Jewish boys".

The only celebrities I spotted in the audience were Christine Vachon (the producer) and John Cameron Mitchell.

George Clooney is listed as one of the executive producers. Maybe he really is gay.

One quibble with Dennis Quaid. He's hot, but a 50s sales exec would not have a six-pack like that. I give him points though for being believable as a married man struggling with his sexuality -- and he is shown kissing a man, unlike Tom Hanks who wouldn't be shown kissing Antonio Banderas in Philadelphia. I hated the whole vibe of "I'm not really gay, just playing gay" in that film.

Another fabulous actress in this is Patricia Clarkson, playing the best friend of Julianne Moore's character. I've seen her a few times on stage, especially in Nicky Silver plays.


I see from IMDB that there is a film before Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which I do have, called Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud. If any of you out there know how to get a copy of it, let me know.

I always understood that Dennis Quaid is one of those preternaturally gifted genetic types. So I don't know that I would have a problem with his having abs...

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Published on November 5, 2002 11:06 PM.

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