By Merle Bertrand | October 26, 1998

Every now and then, a movie comes along that does the motion picture industry proud. No, I’m not talking about “Saving Private Ryan,” but rather “Pleasantville,” Gary Ross’ sly and provocative directorial debut.
Antagonistic twin teenagers from a typically broken 90’s home are having a dragout over the TV remote. One, an expert on “Pleasantville”, a 1950’s “Father Knows Best-ish” sitcom is hoping to win $1,000 in a “Pleasantville” TV marathon contest. His sister, a snobby flirt on the verge of becoming “popular,” has invited the school hunk over to watch a
concert on MTV.
When they finally break the remote, a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts in a sweet nod to the icon of Mayberry) shows up with an odd-looking replacement that transports the squabbling sibs INTO Pleasantville, a black
and white TV town where the sun always shines, the home team always wins, and firemen make house calls to rescue cats stuck in trees.
Of course, the world ends at Main Street, sex means holding hands and books only contain blank pages, but you can’t have everything. Transformed into the show’s “Bud” and “Mary Sue” characters, the twins struggle mightily to adapt to their strange old world.
What seems at first to be a gently satiric nostalgia piece gradually turns serious when the twins introduce spontaneity and a dose of 90’s reality to Pleasantville’s pre-programmed denizens. This reality virus, manifesting as color, gradually spreads through the town.
While this awakening adds color, knowledge and diversity to their previously rote existence, the unprepared citizens must also come to grips with such decidedly unpleasant scourges as intolerance, violence and racism. When that once-charming black and white 1950’s Main Street view transforms into B&W newsreel-like footage of a book burning, hatred-spewing mob chanting “No Coloreds,” the film certainly tempers our nostalgia – and cleverly fires its warning shots right across our bow. Sure times are tough in the 90’s, but it ain’t all bad and the “good old days” weren’t always all that good.
This is an exquisite, timely film. It’s nice to know that occasionally, even Hollywood does something right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon