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All That Heaven Allows
the DVD

. "Far From Heaven"

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 visceral.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written, Insightful
I agree with the review and it adds meaning to the movie for me
Rating: 5

Finally someone who agrees with my perception of this film! All the superb technical and creative skill going into such a weak, hackneyed, sanctimonious story!

                                                      ~~ R. Pelletier 




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Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore: Cathy introduces ideal husband, Frank, to admiring journalists.

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