Far From Heaven Reviews
Connecticut in 1957 finds Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) as the seemingly perfect couple at the heart of their community. Frank has a secret, though, and when Cathy discovers his double life, she begins a friendship with her black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). But such behaviours soon invite the unwanted attention and scorn of their so-called friends and neighbours.
As soon as this film opens, you are instantly struck by Elmer Bernstein's evocative score and a colourful palette that just radiates from the screen. It doesn't take long to realise that Haynes is paying homage to the film's of the 1950's. Douglas Sirk is a particular director that Haynes is emulating and recreating his melodramatic soap opera's like Imitation of Life or All That Heaven Allows is so convincing that you'd be forgiven for questioning whether or not you're watching a contemporary film. There's an intoxicating attention to detail whereby Haynes puts so much care into this film that you're transported back the 50's era. His efforts are so meticulous and refined that Far From Heaven is nothing less than a stunningly crafted piece of cinema. Peter Rogness' art design and Mark Friedberg's production design are simply splendid and the lavish costumes by Sandy Powell change throughout the film to suit the seasonal changes in the plot. All of this is perfectly framed by Edward Lachman's stunning cinematography. His use of light and vibrant, oversaturated colours keep in tune with the bold use of technicolor from Sirk's melodrama's and is absolutely exquisite work.
Haynes' intention is to capture the nuclear, corporate family living the dream of white picket fence America and he does so with a confidence and hugely creative eye. Despite his accomplished recreation of the times, however, Haynes chooses an entirely different direction for his narrative. What sets his film apart from the style of Douglas Sirk is that Sirk's films were all very conservative, whereas Haynes' perfect suburbia is shattered by very personal problems that would have been taboo and risquÃ© by any standards during the 50's. Society, in Haynes' world, is full of casual racists and homophobes who view homosexuality as an illness and being kind to Negros socially unacceptable. The underrated Patricia Clarkson is the perfect embodiment for the judgmental rottenness that permeates the neighbourhood. She epitomises the very people of society that the three, inherently decent, principal characters of Quaid, Haysbert and Moore are up against. With the facade of some and anguish of others, it cuts across so many divides: gender, race, class, sexual orientation but although it's about several different levels of oppression it's, at it's heart, a story about the oppression of women. Ultimately, this is about a women's place at this time; how tolerant they were expected to be and how keeping up appearances was at the forefront of their place within a fractured, consumerist environment.
With his experimental evocation, Haynes could easily fall prey to pretension but for as much style as the film has, it has content to match. Simply speaking, it's a work of art.
The latter, putting on her most happily repressed face, headlines as Cathy Whitaker, an archetypal wholesome homemaker who seemingly has the perfect life. Her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), is the successful owner of a TV company, her children shining examples of the "Aw, shucks!" cliché. The family, unquestionably, leads their wealthy social circle, housewives looking up to Cathy like she's a real-life Donna Reed, husbands thoroughly jealous of Frank's marital good luck.
But things aren't as enviably flawless as they first appear. Though they've been happily married for years, Frank is becoming increasingly tortured by his hidden homosexuality - he's been able to keep it locked inside for his entire life, but as the film opens, he's wearing down. It doesn't take long before he visits a gay bar, before Cathy stops by his office late one night to bring him dinner and discovers him kissing another man.
With her seamless personal life crumbling before her very eyes, Cathy is surprised to find herself progressively attracted to her gardener, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), a black man committed to such a crushing job because the harmful segregation of the decade hardly allows for him to use his business degree in the real world. While most of the predominantly white town prefers to pretend that he doesn't exist, Cathy is infatuated by his charming eloquence - he presents her with a point of view completely foreign to her. As her marriage races to its last legs and the town begins viciously talking, Cathy is forced to consider whether pursuing such a controversial relationship is worth risking her seemingly invincible reputation.
Todd Haynes isn't interested in making a new kind of 1950s melodrama; though he stirs in taboos aplenty (you can't release a film in 2002 and expect the usual vintage subtleties to work efficiently), every aspect is astonishing in its well-versed mimicry. Purposefully, the sets look like sets; the music, massively melodic and dramatic, speaks for the characters when manners forbid them to divulge their true feelings; the color palette, specifically planned by Haynes during the conceptual process (green and black are used during scenes of anxiety, vibrant autumn colors spread about throughout moments of clarity), is breathtakingly identical to the Technicolor pigmentation of the filmmaking era. One could watch the film simply for its emotional content; but for cinephiles with a fetish for Douglas Sirk, it's a goldmine of pitch-perfect homage.
Its complete lack of irony and subtlety makes the photographic lust pop, its storyline, its acting, ripple through the body - there's a reason why "Written on the Wind" and "Imitation of Life" are such classics: the over-the-top, chintzy dramatizations are just too cinematic to resist on a sympathetic level. Haynes's remarkable dedication to stock dialogue allows for the underlying emotional context to sizzle; as Cathy inserts pet-names and breathy coos in-between each word for the sake of appearing like she's the perfect wife, we can increasingly see that it's all part of a façade that conceals her inner intricacies, which, during most of them film, are being torn apart. By never getting to express her dissatisfaction through dialogue, Moore's performance is heightened, Haynes's screenplay all the more deceivingly complex.
It touches on the social issues of the 1950s (race most predominantly, homosexuality at a close second) with gusto films of the decade were not allowed to discuss, and yet "Far From Heaven" never feels like a modernization. It, instead, is an expansion of the artistic and cerebral ideas of the luscious subgenre. Moore is fantastic as a woman perhaps more real than Dorothy Malone or Lana Turner ever were; Haysbert and Quaid are excellent as the men she holds close to her heart but only lead her to nowhere. No matter where she turns, Cathy Whitaker will never be content. But her film long predicament is compulsively watchable, and as long as her life is lensed as if it were a part of an unusually decadent Photoplay session, that's good enough for me.
make a dud. I persuaded a black American friend to watch it with me and had to spend the rest of the evening apologizing. I cringed as poor Mr Haysbert had to speak ridiculous lines in the dullest attempt at "stylizing" I have ever seen.