If someone described what the director of Far From Heaven was trying to do with this movie, you would probably say that he was nuts. The director, Todd Haynes, is not a household name. He has directed Velvet Goldmine and a few other forgettable films. And now he wants to make a movie in the style of Douglas Sirk who was also not a household name, at least to me, before I read about Far From Heaven. The aim was to make a movie that looks and feels like it was made in the 1950's. Haynes has been very successful. Far From Heaven really does look and feel like it was made in the 1950's. But that was the easy part. Haynes has also made a movie that is so compelling that even though it has this 1950's veneer, it never seems silly or dated.
Far From Heaven tells the story of what, at first, seems to be a typical 1950's family, with a father (Dennis Quaid) who works too hard and drinks a little bit too much, a stay-at-home mother (Julianne Moore) and their small daughter. Their lives seem to be much like the other families in the Hartford, Connecticut suburb where they live. But, beneath the surface, all is not well. Quaid is hiding something from his wife and when she stumbles on it by mistake, it sends their relationship into a death spiral. Moore is devastated and feels that she has no one to turn to until she starts confiding in her gardener (Dennis Haysbert). The gardener is black and soon Moore's friendship with him has made them pariahs on both sides of the tracks.
Far From Heaven is shot in what can only be described as Technicolor. Haynes has recreated the brilliant colors of 1950's films as well as the style. The colors of the world around Quaid and Moore are so bright, accentuating the couple's unhappiness. Moore, Haysbert and Quaid all give amazing performances, which punch through the stylized presentation. We are used to seeing great performances from Moore. But, Quaid, who has been around forever (Breaking Away was in 1979), reaffirms his acting chops. And, this may be a breakout role for Haysbert, now best known for playing the President on TV's 24. The juxtaposition of expression and repression in Far From Heaven could very easily have failed. But this movie never seems hokey. And, the scary part is that even though the reactions of the people in Hartford to all this scandalous behavior is very 1950's, it still resonates very strongly as a mirror to our world of 2002. This is especially true after the week we've just had with Trent Lott.
This is definitely a must-see
movie. Moore, and possibly Quaid and Haysbert, will almost certainly
get Oscar nominations. I would have said that Far From Heaven is
delightfully different if not for the somber subject matter. Don't