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Far From Heaven (2002)

Directed by:

Todd Haynes

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 107 minutes

UK Certificate: 12a

Country: United States

Julianne Moore truly is in her element here. Long suspected to be the modern day Queen of overplayed melodrama, Far From Heaven gives her the opportunity to make that title undisputedly her own.

In a daring attempt at recreating the nudge-nudge wink-wink golden days of 1950s cinema, director Todd Haynes pays homage to (rather than plagiarises) Douglas Sirk's 1957 production All That Heaven Allows in suitably lavish fashion. And he couldn't have picked a more suited leading lady than Moore who, let's face it, shamelessly over-acts in every film she makes whether it seems appropriate or not.

Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, the darling wife and mother of two whose perfect suburban lifestyle turns sour when she finds out her supposedly-adoring husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) likes kissing other men. Frank's doctor suggests a 'heterosexual conversion' (which, somewhat disappointingly, involves sitting on a couch talking, rather than hunting trips and whistling at women from building sites), whilst Cathy shows her support by driving around in a truck with black gardener Raymond (24's Dennis Haysbert). So, while Mrs Whitaker's blossoming inter-racial friendship causes tension in the local community, Mr Whitaker moves in with a young apparently-mute man who always seems to be wearing a dressing gown and smiling with only one side of his mouth.

Despite getting the 'look' of 1950s cinema spot-on, the film does possess some glaring inconsistencies – Frank's open displays of homosexuality, on-screen wife-beating and use of sweary words (proper ones, as opposed to 'heck' and 'dang') would never ever have occurred in a film genuinely of the period. Then again, Cathy more than makes up for each of those out-of-place moments with her use of phrases like 'jeepers, look at the time'.

It's Got: Brilliant attention to the music, colour, lighting and melodrama of mid-50s American cinema.

It Needs: To have each of the lead players singing from the same hymn sheet. Are they supposed to be over-exaggerating every little phrase and movement like Moore, or acting fairly normally like Quaid and Haysbert?

Alternatives:

All That Heaven Allows, Pleasantville

Summary

Despite parts of the movie not sitting at all well with Haynes' intended period recreation, Far From Heaven undeniably takes a fascinating look at American racism (and, to a lesser extent, homophobia) which is as relevant today as it was in the 50s.

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