Pleasantville

1998, Movie, PG-13, 116 mins

Review

PLEASANTVILLE
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This flip side to the acclaimed TRUMAN SHOW is glossy, high-concept Hollywood entertainment that uses special effects to awaken the senses rather than numb them. David (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy, disaffected high-school student; his fraternal twin Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is a popular hellion. David's refuge is the '50s sitcom "Pleasantville," whose shopworn, B&W verities, close-knit families and predictable characters are a comforting alternative to the broken homes and anxieties of Southern California life in the '90s. The contentious twins make conflicting weekend TV plans, and in the ensuing struggle break the remote control. Enter an avuncular TV repairman (Don Knotts), who, in honor of David's superior mastery of "Pleasantville" trivia, delivers a nifty device that sucks the pair into the show itself. Everything is black and white and they're forced to play perfect teens Bud and Mary Sue, children of George (William H. Macy) and Betty Parker (Joan Allen). David at first loves playing Bud: For once he knows exactly what to say, and what happens next. Jennifer/Mary Sue chafes under layers of underwear, poodle skirts and '50s social norms, and stirs up trouble when she introduces sex into the cheerfully repressed town. Mary Sue's rebellion is the catalyst that introduces color (read: sensuality and emotion, as well as conflict), and the town's teens are on the cutting edge of all this burgeoning cultural curiosity. They begin reading books, listening to hipster jazz and (of course) having sex, all of which disrupts the soothing TV show reality and drives George and mayor Big Bob (J.T. Walsh) into organizing a backlash campaign. The themes writer-director Gary Ross (who scripted BIG and DAVE) wants to explore in this high-tech fable are sometimes obvious. But his sophisticated handling -- and the efforts of his able cast, notably the stellar Joan Allen -- produces a surprisingly accomplished cumulative effect. leave a comment --Sandra Contreras

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