While the critics trip all over themselves to lavish praise on a film with
such an accomplished visual style, filmgoers are likely to be breathless over
why they spent so much money for such a decrepit story. Who they have to
hold responsible for this gross miscalculation are the filmmakers who were so
diverted by their zeal for the visual that they forgot that we needed to feel
something for the characters. At least one.
Taking its title from 50s director Douglas Sirk's film, "All That Heaven
Allows" starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, the association is as far from
meaningful as it from heaven. It had meaning to Sirk, to director Haynes and
probably to a host of fans of 50s films, but it doesn't resonate much outside
those precincts of enthusiasm in 2002.
Notwithstanding the brilliance of its art direction, costuming and set
decoration, and Edward Lachman's superbly stylized photography to maximize
its effect, this film comes in a rather numbing wrapper of story style and
artificiality that went out with hula hoops.
Movie behavior in the 50s was developed within the constraints of censorship
and the morality of the times. Through the prism of today's range of
acceptance, such choices are no longer necessary or entertaining. Yes,
duplicate the look so unerringly -- visual mastery is timeless -- but a
disassociation with modern standards invites disconnection and boredom, which
is what this film offers.
In suburban Connecticut of 1957, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), housewife
and mother of two, conforms to the mores and dictates of her community. She
and her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) are the ideal couple who have achieved
an enviable position as role models, stemming not only from their exemplary
lives and values, but also from their appearance together in Frank's
company's TV ad campaign. They have become local celebrities.
But all is not as idyllic as it seems. The bed in this house is a lonely
place. There are two in it, but it's been used only for sleep for some time
owing to the fact that Frank, the ideal husband, is struggling with his
sexuality. When his liaison with a man is discovered by Cathy, she recovers
from shock and urges him to see a doctor. In a leap of superficial
contrivance, he's only too glad to cooperate in a "cure".
Small wonder, then, that Cathy's repression has led to an attraction to
Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), the gardener. He's tall, good looking,
gentle, sensitive, heterosexual. He's everything Frank is not, including the
fact that he's also black. Guess what the attitudes are in this small
American community in 1957 toward "coloreds". And guess what effect this
will have on Cathy's standing in the community if her continued
liberalities and fraternizations are discovered. And they are.
The social import of this, in a modern context, is to bring the prejudices of
the past to our attention. This "Far From Heaven" does, but it does nothing
to endear any of these characters to us. The dramatic miscalculation here,
one suspects, is that the creators depended on Cathy's more "progressive"
attitude than that of her peers, one more in line with our own subsequent
enlightenments. But we're too alienated for that idea to accomplish its
goal. Cathy is far too stilted, stylized and vacuous to elicit a connection
to us, praiseworthy or otherwise. She's a contrived character, a dressed up
doll in an expensive dollhouse.
Consequently, these people and this film never rise to our sympathies and
doesn't achieve the level of entertainment, clarity or poignancy the film
makers had in mind.
It's too bad. The consistency of the muted earth tones in every corner of
every frame is art itself. It's also artificiality. The achievement is
visual. If only the style of language and behavior didn't deaden the
~~ Jules Brenner