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IN SHORT: With feet stuck firmly in the 1950s, a failed attempt to push that decade's melodrama form into the 00s. [Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and language. 107 minutes]
There is a reason that 1950s-type melodramas haven't been seen on the big screen in well over thirty or so years (Love Story is the last of the big 'uns that come to our feeble brain). The reason is that the societal rules about the place of women as seen in those films, meaning that the women should stay in the house and attend to the fluff of their petticoats, while the maid takes care of the cooking and cleaning and a hard working husband brings home the bacon, died back in the 1960s.
Knowing for certain that we were about to plant for a heavy duty chick flick, we entered the screening room fully prepared and surrounded ourselves with a sea of femmes, all either single or who had mercifully left their men behind. We paid close attention as their heads started bobbing up and down, up and down, like those toy ducks do to a glass of water. again and again, checking their watches as Far From Heaven ground on and on.
Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) basks in that 1950s perfect life that writers ground out with propagandistic precision half a century ago. A grand suburban house, two cars, two kidlets and a perfect white collar husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid) who works as a sales executive in the booming television business. They live in a neat as a pin home in the sea of neat as a pin homes, all kept that way by negro servants who have mastered the Art of Invisibility ("There are no Negroes in Hartford" says one guest at a black tie cocktail party thrown by the Whitaker's). Perfect wife that she is, when the maid Sybil (Viola Davis) prepares Mr. W's favorite dinner, Mrs. W. drives a Tupperware container down to the office, where she catches her better half in a heavy duty lip lock . . . with another man. Thank Goodness there's the new Science of Psychiatry to treat Frank's "illness"!
Throwing another wrench into the works of the perfect marriage is the surprising attractiveness of the Whitaker's new gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), a single father who is young, intelligent and cultured. All properties that our fine femme resident of Hartford, Connecticut never considered possible in persons of a darker skin color. As Cathy's marriage deteriorates, her friendship with Raymond grows. He brings her to places rarely visited by persons of the Caucasian persuasion and, wouldn't you just know it, the local busy body just happens to spot the pair together. Two snaps up and Ms Whitaker and her kidlets are shunned by the finer citizens of Hartford.
Conceptually, writer Haynes has come up with dynamite ideas that reconfigure the usual torture that is the traditional chick flick. Director Haynes, on the other hand, moves his story along at a pace that plods just like the Fifties did, yielding an almost intolerable sit. His twists on the generic melodrama are ingenious and very 21st century but his refusal to push his story into territory that the genre would never have allowed in 1957 stops any last minute story save dead in its tracks. We hate to be obscure, but we don't spill a movie's ending, surprise or not.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Far From Heaven, he would have paid . . .
Impossible for most of us gents. Rent for the ladies.
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