'What's sex?' - Betty
Pleasantville is a favourite film of mine. Powerful on many levels, it manages to captivate the attention as well as entertain and give pause for thought.
The premise is simple; David (Tobey Maguire) is given a remote control that allows him to enter the TV set and the programme of Pleasantville with his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). This mysterious start to the film is a well-trod one (Gremlins and Back to the Future being well-known previous examples), but it works without too much tedium. The world of Pleasantville that they enter is a black and white sitcom set in the 50s with bland, inoffensive content. David loves this programme, but, egged on by his sister’s behaviour in having sex with one of the town’s other teenagers (in a place where holding hands is risqué), he soon begins to encourage the townspeople to rebel and investigate their adventurous side. Apparently too much sex means poor quality basketball the next morning, but as each townsperson’s innocence is challenged, the town begins to turn from black and white to colour, piece by piece, in a most beautiful manner, as they realise their greater potential.
The film is a superb parody of conservative social values: everything the townspeople hold dear is challenged by David and the growing band of ‘coloreds’. There’s more than a nod towards the segregation in America of that period, with a separation of the coloreds from the non-coloreds as the more conservative folk (led by mayor Big Bob - played the always excellent J.T. Walsh - sadly his last film) try to resist the growing awareness of beauty and variety. There are some truly touching scenes, such as where Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels) sees an art book for the first time - his reaction looks like Newton’s would if you showed him a 747. The film also investigates Pavlovian response, as George (William H. Macy) highlights in a humourous scene where he seems incapable of understanding why his dinner is not on the table.
Ultimately Pleasantville is not only great fun, and funny to boot, it’s also deep, meaningful, and has a happy ending. What more could you want? This is a film to be enjoyed.