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Overall Rating
4.21

Awesome51.38%
Worth A Look: 33.03%
Average: 4.59%
Pretty Bad: 7.34%
Total Crap: 3.67%

9 reviews, 55 user ratings


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Far from Heaven
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Beautifully crafted but seldom rises above homage."
4 stars

For those who complain that Hollywood doesn't make movies like they used to, writer-director Todd Haynes has gone to great trouble to make a movie like they used to -- "Far from Heaven," a melodrama set in 1957 that almost could've been made in 1957.

Haynes, whose style has ranged from the stark white of Safe (1995) to the kaleidoscopic glam-rock glitter of Velvet Goldmine (1998), ties himself this time to a rigorous form of classical filmmaking. The lighting, the costumes, the stilted dialogue, the kids who call their parents "sir" and "ma'am" -- Haynes seems to curl up and snuggle inside the sheer repression of the '50s style. The people even mind their language, save for one meant-to-be-startling moment when an anguished character lets fly with the F-word.

It's an obsessive triumph of design and tribute, beautifully acted by Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid as the central embattled married couple, but it exists in an uneasy zone between homage and parody. Haynes obviously means us to join in the sorrow, to empathize with Moore's Cathy Whitaker, who develops tender feelings for black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), and Quaid's Frank Whitaker, a deeply closeted gay man who's submerged his desires thoroughly enough to sire two children and have an outwardly ideal marriage. But this stuff was somehow more fun in the '50s, when interracial and same-sex love dared not speak their names, and directors had to sneak them in via coded subtexts that only hip audiences (or today's modern audiences) could decode.

Quaid is intensely moving as the tortured Frank, especially when the poor man conscientiously seeks to "cure" his condition, growling "I'm gonna beat this thing" as though homosexuality were cancer and simply required the hetero equivalent of chemotherapy (heterotherapy? not an uncommon concept back then, actually — or now, sadly). But Far from Heaven would probably sink without Julianne Moore, who stampedes towards challenges that lesser actresses would shrink from. She nails the surface of Cathy -- presentable housewife who lives only for Frank, the kids, and a well-appointed home -- and somehow manages to read Hayne's intentionally strictured dialogue as if a human being could actually say it. But when she falls for Raymond (Haysbert does fine, tender work), Cathy comes to understand the power of forbidden desires over her husband. She's willing to forgive him his trespasses, even if he forgives neither her nor himself.

Moore takes you along on a fully developed emotional arc; this is an old-school women's weepie, like the Douglas Sirk soapers (Imitation of Life, Written on the Wind, and especially All That Heaven Allows) Haynes adores enough to have made this valentine to them. The formulation is a bit too neat, though: homosexuality for the man, a Negro lover for the woman, both marooned in the intolerance of the '50s yet depicted with 20/20 hindsight 45 years later (as if the same conflicts today wouldn't also wreck a marriage). A less generous reading of Far from Heaven might be that the openly gay director is tweaking the sanctity of marriage, an institution that today hardly needs to be exposed, what with its high rate of failure. Then, too, Haynes could be capturing the moment in America, right before the turbulent '60s, when people began to realize that a union founded on repression is founded on nothing.

I applaud Haynes' achievement as a loving and radiant throwback, a true oxymoron that appreciates the lush surface of the '50s (or '50s cinema, anyway) while not remotely wishing for a return to the social dictates of that era. Yet what's missing is the shameless emotional punch we associate with the old melodramas; Haynes, as brilliant as he sometimes can be, is simply too distant and astringent a director to pull out the stops and wring our tears. Far from Heaven comes to seem more of a cinematic position paper, or a postmodern stunt, than a drama (compared to something like Blue Velvet, which works similar territory to overpowering effect, it looks rather pallid).

Haynes gets the surface, and the passions crawling underneath it, but that's all he gets.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6299&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/27/06 15:32:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/31/08 Ramone Haynes' academic approach doesn't neglect real emotion here 5 stars
6/21/07 fools♫gold Almost as SHOCKINGLY flawless as "Yes." 5 stars
6/01/07 Anton Though the story was a bit flat, Julianne gives another incredible performance. 5 stars
12/28/06 Rob H Felt like an academic exercise or parody. Could not get into it. 2 stars
10/27/06 Matt H. Flawless cinematography, really amazing, however I do believe the story was a bit flat. 4 stars
8/16/06 anthonyuk when will the oscars recognize julianne moore as one of the best ever 5 stars
1/03/06 Daveman Hammy, even by melodrama standards. 2 stars
6/02/05 JFK great actings, great plot. Bad ending 4 stars
12/12/04 Charlene Javier Julianne Moore was robbed! 5 stars
9/26/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Not as good as I had hoped, tho I respect Moore & Dennis a lot 4 stars
10/05/03 Darryl Seen all this before. Just maybe not in 1957 Hartford. Nothing special. J. Moore is good. 3 stars
10/02/03 Jinnvisible People have Gay and Interracial love problems-- YES WE KNOW-beautifull photography though 4 stars
9/12/03 filmfatale Excellent and riveting movie - Julianne did a great job! 5 stars
8/28/03 Chris The film's not perfect but very good none the less. The actors were all excellent. 4 stars
8/15/03 Ayla much better than expected 4 stars
7/25/03 Léo parent I LOVE THIS MOVIE I THINK IT,A GREAT MOVIE 5 stars
6/03/03 brentley The acting, the cinematography, the set design, everything - was all top notch. 5 stars
5/31/03 Jack Sommersby Familiar ideas directed and performed with flair and power. A wonderful film. 4 stars
5/26/03 Gil Carlson Hopelessly over rated and highly improbable 2 stars
5/12/03 Artist Freak Not as aweomse as I thought it would be. Nice cinematography tho. 4 stars
4/20/03 Boo Splendid 5 stars
4/06/03 gay man who's sirk 5 stars
3/23/03 Kyle Not bad. Didn't meet my expectations, though... 3 stars
3/20/03 regy A quiet gem of a movie. 5 stars
3/05/03 James Renwick Touching and moving motion picture. Society is still like in som many ways 4 stars
2/21/03 Jim the movie geek Slow and unreal in parts, but some powerful bits. 4 stars
2/14/03 Andrew Carden Excellent film, with great performances. Kudos To Julianne Moore 5 stars
2/13/03 Joe Tackled these subjects poorly, go rent a Sirk film instead 1 stars
2/13/03 kz Cinema at its Best 5 stars
2/12/03 alien assassin If you don't like this, dust off your collection of "happy days" videos. 5 stars
1/10/03 Goofy Maxwell *sniff* The style is just so beautiful. *sniff* Disillusionment is oh so painful. 5 stars
1/01/03 Mitchell Morris It's not a movie, it's something better—a "picture." 5 stars
12/25/02 Marshall Among the 21st century's first classic films. 5 stars
12/25/02 gg excellent but a bit overstated; technical mastery of late 1950's look is worth going for. 4 stars
12/24/02 Donna Horrendous propoganda in which no character is remotely close to the 50's. 1 stars
12/24/02 anna an incredibly artistic piece of work 5 stars
12/23/02 laura This film is so heavy handed and lacking in subtlety, it's offensive. I'm shocked as well. 2 stars
12/22/02 take1 Very enjoyable 5 stars
12/22/02 RS This could and should have been a good film. It wasn't. 1 stars
12/19/02 geekLove disturbed. Not a good date movie = the husband (me) turns gay, wife (date) loves gardener. 3 stars
12/18/02 steve interesting film for those that love "film," but honestly, it left me feeling cold. 3 stars
12/17/02 Cory Phaeus Moore and Quaid's "acting" is so patently phony, I am astounded the "critics" loved them. 1 stars
12/17/02 This Charming Man perfect period piece - excellent acting 5 stars
12/17/02 Stephen Essential viewing 5 stars
12/15/02 john Score detracts, attempts at saluting sirk distracts, story is weak 2 stars
12/15/02 Mike G Julianne Moore's acting and the set design is amazing! 5 stars
12/13/02 VINCENT LOCASCIO THIS FILM SHOWCASES DENNIS QUAID'S AMAZING ACTING ABILITIES BUT JULIANNE MOORE IS THE STAR. 5 stars
12/11/02 renegade mike the struggle to achieve in atmosphere got in the way of a really compelling story 2 stars
12/10/02 AgainstTheGrain This movie was an academic exercise. Save money, rent a Douglas Sirk movie! 2 stars
12/09/02 Flora P. Re establishes racial boundaries, Negro as spiritual help for troubled white woman 2 stars
12/08/02 David Hogan Stunning in every respect, and a movie that makes me understand why I love movies. 5 stars
12/06/02 Suzz beautiful looking film; fine performances; but flat and uninvolving 3 stars
11/26/02 marzio arigoni@rtsi.ch What a nice surprise: good film, superb cinematography, Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid sim 5 stars
11/21/02 Kenmeister Well-made, well -acted melodrama. The only part that rings false is Raymond. 4 stars
11/10/02 Ariya Best film of the year 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Nov-2002 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-Apr-2003

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Feb-2003




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