FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002) 

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Julianne Moore
Dennis Quaid
Dennis Haysbert
Patricia Clarkson
Viola Davis
James Rebhorn
Bette Henritze
Michael Gaston
Ryan Ward
Lindsay Andretta

Todd Haynes




Time: 107 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Romance

Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Moore), Cinematography, Score and Original Screenplay.

A film probably more honest regarding the life struggles of the 1950's than those produced during that era. Haynes and company capture how dangerous living a life of style over substance can be. This vibrant story begins as a simple tale about an apparently happily married couple. What unspools are the secrets that tear them apart and shatter their ideal existence. A current of anger and desperation rages under the surface as societal restrictions and hidden desires wreak havoc on the perfect world Cathy and Frank Whitaker have created. Moore is brilliant as the super mom and always-gracious hostess who just wants her lovely life to stay that way. Her despair turns to hope when she begins a friendship that's against the rules of decent society. Though candy-coated on the outside, it's the film's smart and subtle take on race relations that gives it a deep and moving core.

Dennis Haysbert, who hit the big time as presidential candidate David Palmer in the Fox hit 24, gives a sweetly stunning turn as Raymond, Cathy's port in the storm of her dissolving marriage. His sense of humor, intelligence, honesty and strength are the perfect counterpoint to Moore's fragility, understanding and decency. The chemistry between them, which must be denied due to heated disapproval from both whites and blacks, is palpable. Their disappointment at living in a time that forces them to live apart is devastating to watch. As the film turns from fantasy to reality, it's their relationship that's the most compelling and the one that shows Cathy her dream of sweeping her husband's homosexuality under the carpet is neither attainable nor desirable. Though she loves her life, she deserves and wants a man who will truly love her, not one pretending to be something he's not. Quaid fills out the triangle beautifully as the charming husband with an ugly secret he can no longer deny. One can hardly blame him. Society still looks down on homosexuality and his choice to bury his sexual preference is one I'm sure many men made at that time in order to be successful and respected. Hell, it continues to go on today.

"No, he's absolutely right. We ladies are never what we appear, and every girl has her secrets. "

Sometimes it's a fine line between straight and gay and Quaid pulls it off nicely. One doesn't know if he's just being charming or flaming. Depending on his audience his remarks could go either way. His descent is heart-breaking and powerful, especially after he begins "treatment" in an attempt to eliminate his homosexual urges. Though he doesn't want to hurt Cathy or their children, it's clear he is not going to be "cured." The look and feel of the film, from the costumes to the language ("jeez" is considered unacceptable) to the cinematography, lulls you into believing that you're experiencing a simpler and more genial time; however, that's far from the case. The film is styled after the romantic melodramas of Douglas Sirk, a popular director of the 50s. What Haynes explores, using the same backdrop, are topics Sirk was rarely allowed to even hint at. Segregation was still very much alive and well, so Sirk was forced to use class as a barrier instead of race throughout most of his career. That is until he directed the classic race melodrama IMITATION OF LIFE in 1959. It's a decent effort regarding the troubles of black people in America at the time, but is far too overbearing in its' message to be fully enjoyable.

Haynes manages to sidestep that pitfall with the honest dialogue and subtle performances of Moore and Haysbert. Their friendship emerging from a common acquaintance – he's her gardener – which keeps their newfound emotions from being contrived. That being said, the film does have it's overwrought moments, but they are never outside the normal range of behavior for people in these situations. What I found most stunning about the story is how unacceptable consorting with the "negros" was. Though there is still prejudice against African Americans today, the issues of intermarriage between races seems to be fairly widely accepted. Certainly more so than homosexuality. Yet, like Cathy, my breath was taken away when her best friend, played by Patricia Clarkson, turned stone cold when Cathy expressed her feelings for Raymond. Cathy could still be part of society even though her husband turned out to be gay, but show friendship and caring for a negro and you're out. Even her husband, a man sneaking around to have sex with men, is appalled by her behavior and worried about what it will do to their reputation. Amazing.

What makes Cathy such a great character is that though she doesn't fully understand her emotions, she's willing to go out on a limb and risk total disgrace and isolation to find out. She comes off as somewhat dim to the ramifications, but most housewives would have been at the time. Raymond, on the other hand, knows exactly what will happen to him and his daughter. It's clear he shares a spark with Cathy, however, he's not willing to sacrifice his personal safety to see where this friendship will go. Haynes and company have outdone themselves, creating a rich, vibrant, moving tapestry of life in a bygone era with continued relevance to life in the 21st century. If you're looking for a film that will make you think, occasionally laugh and touch your heart, this is a class act from start to finish. The plot's a little thinner than I'd hoped, but the acting and emotions more than make up for it. The ending is a bit sudden, but finalizes the story exactly as it should. Though it looks glorious, this is no fairy tale. A truly unique film experience.

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