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Review: "Far From Heaven"

January 27th, 2003

What a beautiful film! I was overjoyed by every minute that unfolded in front of me. Far From Heaven is such a wonderfully made and inventive piece of film that I wanted to give it a standing ovation as the end credits rolled. Hollywood hasn't made a movie this fresh and powerful in years, irony rearing its head as independent production company Focus financed and released this daring and brilliant take on 1950s filmmaking, where a major Hollywood studio wouldn't touch the script today with a ten-foot poll. Pity since Far From Heaven contains more beauty and depth in a single scene then all of the mainstream shwash-buckling $100 million-plus extravaganzas put together.

Julianne Moore stars as Cathy Whitaker, a simple and pleasant housewife and mother of two gee-whiz kids in 1957 Hartford, Connecticut. Her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), displays the essence of the all-American upper-crust business executive with his big pearly whites and sparkling eyes and is known around their small, quaint town as Mr. Megnatech. But underneath his suit-and-tie exterior lies uncontrollable sexual desires for other men.

Homophobia being just as rampant in the 50s as racism, Frank forces himself to see a doctor to undergo a mental process of becoming "straight". The doc even suggests electric shock therapy, something that was scarily booming for gays and lesbians at the time. During all this, Cathy's life slowly downward spirals, turning her into a fiberglass waxwork of a life she thinks she's supposed to have. She also gets into an intensely fragile relationship with her new gardner, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), an event that spreads hush-hush gossip around town because of Raymond's African- American decent. Cathy and Raymond share special feelings towards each other, feelings Frank cannot contribute to Cathy (especially after he falls for someone from Derek Zoolander's Pretty Boy Modeling School), and when she tells Raymond he is the most beautiful person she's ever met, we completely understand and want more to happen between these two lovely characters. But in an era of extreme ignorance and race discrimination, races must unfortunately go their separate ways or suffer the consequences.

Director Todd Haynes (Safe) has filmed Far From Heaven in the manner of typical American 1950s melodramas. Douglas Sirk is said to have been a major inspiration, and it's easy to see why. Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind feature the same exaggerated camera angles and costumes, over-dramatic musical scores and blazing soap opera plots. Far From Heaven achieves greatness because it honors its roots and at the same time deals with subject matters ignored in actual 1957.

Moore is luminous as Cathy, a woman so beautiful on the inside as she is on the out you want to reach out to the screen and give her a hug. Quaid explodes with power as Frank, a role many top-billing actors, like Quaid, would have never dared take on. The rest of the cast is also great, including Haysbert and Patricia Clarkson as Cathy's best friend, Eleanor. You'll remember Clarkson from her role in 1998's superb High Art.

Haynes has become a magnificent auteur after a series of mostly ignored indie-size movies (the glitzy Velvet Goldmine). With Far From Heaven, he's blossomed into a director of immeasurable talent and intimacy.

Matthew Dalton