Director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Safe) updates Douglas Sirk’s 1950s-era melodramas with a subversive note. Everything from the cinematography to Elmer Bernstein’s syrupy score is invocative of Sirk’s immaculate style in films like “All That Heaven Allows” and “Imitation of Life.” The story, however, adds subversive elements that were only ever suggested in Sirk’s films.
Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid) are living the ideal Eisenhower-era life in their suburban Hartford Valhalla. He’s a successful executive and she’s a local woman of society. Their picture-perfect life starts to peel away, however, as Frank confronts his preference for the company of men, and Cathy develops a special relationship with her African-American gardener. The film confronts the era’s intolerance with regard to gender and race relations, but it should be noted that Haynes films without a trace of irony. The actors offer similarly genuine performances, especially Moore who conjures up images of Lana Turner.