Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"The film is genuinely funny, supremely inventive and visually a delight."

Just when you thought it was safe to ridicule Hollywood for being so predictable, along came The Truman Show. Before that, Back To The Future. And now Pleasantville. These movies wear their originality lightly, as if comedy can't be serious, even if it feels the urge. They have such great concepts, you forget to notice that there's more going on than just entertainment. Beneath the surface, debate and argument rage.

David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are lippy, one-parent, teenage siblings. David is a TV soap addict. His fave is Pleasantville, a pastichy Fifties cult watch for high school nerdspotters. Jennifer plays sulky queen bitch in her own production of "Sex, Please, I'm Californian" and thinks David's encyclopaedic knowledge of Pleasantville's storylines too sad to share. Thanks to the unexpected arrival of a wrinkly TV repairman and some heavy-duty magic, they find themselves in Pleasantville, playing - or rather BEING - Bud and Mary Sue, progeny of the perfectly perfect mum'n'dad, George (William H Macy) and Betty (Joan Allen). What's more, they are in black and white.

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David has no illusions about the reality of those around him. They don't have any. And what you can't do is interfere with their soapiness, because it might cause a crisis of Toytown-Meets-Reservoir-Dogs proportions. Jennifer hates every beastly minute of it and decides to seduce the captain of the basketball team. What she doesn't realise is that certain things don't exist, like sex, rain, fire, books with words in them, failiure, vandalism and cheeseburgers which don't melt in your mouth. By educating these soapkids, she opens gates to enlightenment, therefore creating division, where before there was only sweet harmony.

Producer/director/writer Gary Ross (he scripted Big and Dave) goes beyond Nineties kids living in Fifties make-believe, with its Back To The Future resonances, and probes the security of squeaky clean against the uncertainty of change. By initiating Pleasantvile's hand-holding young lovers into the sensual pleasures of Teen City, USA, Jennifer brings colour into their lives, as well as prejudice, anger and confusion. The film is genuinely funny, supremely inventive and visually a delight. The performances shine, especially Allen, as a woman who discovers there is more to life than pancakes for breakfast, and Witherspoon, who has the instincts of a vixen in a foxhole. The fantasy element is no harder to take than the angel in It's A Wonderful Life, except this time it's about teenagers, not a man who wants to jump off a bridge.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A couple of Californian teens are transported into a Fifties televisual adventure.
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Scott Macdonald ****

Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H Macy, Reese Witherspoon, JT Walsh, Don Knotts, Marley Shelton

Year: 1998

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

Back To The Future
The Truman Show