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9 reviews, 56 user ratings

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Far from Heaven
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by EricDSnider

"Beautiful, heartbreaking and chock-full of Julianne Moore goodness."
5 stars

For his latest project, maverick writer/director Todd Haynes ("Velvet Goldmine") has chosen to create a film in the style of a weepy 1950s melodrama. He has done it elegantly, effectively duplicating a mostly abandoned style of filmmaking while simultaneously telling a heartfelt, emotional story. Either trick would have been neat, and he's done them both.

He has particularly followed the example of director Douglas Sirk, whose films "All That Heaven Allows" (1955) and "Imitation of Life" (1959) served as prototypes for "Far From Heaven." For viewers unfamiliar with Sirk's work, know that they had a lush artificiality about them, were shot on studio backlots rather than on location, and were vivid, colorful films to look at. Tragic romance was a recurring theme.

"Far From Heaven" is set in 1957 in upscale Hartford, Conn. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is a faithful, doting housewife and part-time socialite with a successful businessman husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), and two energetic children. Her life is the version of perfection we see in movies and TV shows from the 1950s.

Frank, however, is a closeted homosexual who begins acting on his impulses. On top of that, Cathy develops a friendship with their gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), who is black -- a fact that doesn't sit well, even in a progressive Northern town like Hartford.

Neither of those issues -- homosexuality or interracial romances -- were explored with much sensitivity or detail in the 1950s, and part of what makes "Far From Heaven" so brilliant is that it completely buys into its premise: This is a '50s film, dealing with things the way they WOULD have been dealt with in those days, had they been dealt with at all.

When Frank visits a doctor (James Rebhorn) who promises to help him "cure" his homosexuality using a "modern, scientific approach," we know the approach is probably actually barbaric and ineffective. We smile a little at the naivete of the 1950s -- and then immediately are engrossed again by the characters and their plights. The tone is not ironic; it is sincere.

It would be easy for the tragedy of the story to be lost in the stylized acting -- for the film to turn into a soulless gimmick -- but Haynes' top-notch cast avoids that pitfall gracefully. Julianne Moore plays her leading lady so beautifully, with such honest, heart-wrenching emotion, that it seems impossible not to nominate her for an Oscar. Dennis Haysbert -- the president on TV's "24" -- is powerfully dignified as Raymond, and though Frank's homosexuality is pushed to the background of the film for a while, Dennis Quaid's performance is quite moving.

The details of the film are equally delightful, from the pitch-perfect dialogue -- it may not be how real people spoke in the '50s, but it's certainly how movie characters spoke -- to Cathy's cadre of gossiping-housewife friends, to the flowery fonts used in the opening title sequence.

Edward Lachman's vibrant cinematography adds to the film's dewey tone, but has some subtlety, too. Most of Cathy and Frank's conversations take place in darkened rooms, in stark contrast to the bright color that pervades the rest of the film, which looks for all the world like it was shot in 1957.

What is most important, however, is the story, which is rooted in the attitudes of the 1950s but which resonates today. Haynes has tapped into that most tragic of ideas -- forbidden love -- and mined some excellent melodrama from it. This is one of the year's best films.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6299&reviewer=247
originally posted: 07/03/03 23:47:07
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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

11/04/15 David Hollingsworth Amazing film! 5 stars
7/31/08 Ramone Haynes' academic approach doesn't neglect real emotion here 5 stars
6/20/07 fools♫gold Almost as SHOCKINGLY flawless as "Yes." 5 stars
5/31/07 Anton Though the story was a bit flat, Julianne gives another incredible performance. 5 stars
12/27/06 Rob H Felt like an academic exercise or parody. Could not get into it. 2 stars
10/26/06 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
1/02/06 Daveman Hammy, even by melodrama standards. 2 stars
6/01/05 JFK great actings, great plot. Bad ending 4 stars
12/11/04 Charlene Javier Julianne Moore was robbed! 5 stars
9/25/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Not as good as I had hoped, tho I respect Moore & Dennis a lot 4 stars
10/04/03 Darryl Seen all this before. Just maybe not in 1957 Hartford. Nothing special. J. Moore is good. 3 stars
10/01/03 Jinnvisible People have Gay and Interracial love problems-- YES WE KNOW-beautifull photography though 4 stars
9/11/03 filmfatale Excellent and riveting movie - Julianne did a great job! 5 stars
8/27/03 Chris The film's not perfect but very good none the less. The actors were all excellent. 4 stars
8/14/03 Ayla much better than expected 4 stars
7/24/03 Léo parent I LOVE THIS MOVIE I THINK IT,A GREAT MOVIE 5 stars
6/02/03 brentley The acting, the cinematography, the set design, everything - was all top notch. 5 stars
5/30/03 Jack Sommersby Familiar ideas directed and performed with flair and power. A wonderful film. 4 stars
5/25/03 Gil Carlson Hopelessly over rated and highly improbable 2 stars
5/11/03 Artist Freak Not as aweomse as I thought it would be. Nice cinematography tho. 4 stars
4/19/03 Boo Splendid 5 stars
4/05/03 gay man who's sirk 5 stars
3/22/03 Kyle Not bad. Didn't meet my expectations, though... 3 stars
3/19/03 regy A quiet gem of a movie. 5 stars
3/04/03 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
2/13/03 Andrew Carden Excellent film, with great performances. Kudos To Julianne Moore 5 stars
2/12/03 Joe Tackled these subjects poorly, go rent a Sirk film instead 1 stars
2/12/03 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
12/31/02 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
12/23/02 Donna Horrendous propoganda in which no character is remotely close to the 50's. 1 stars
12/23/02 anna an incredibly artistic piece of work 5 stars
12/22/02 laura This film is so heavy handed and lacking in subtlety, it's offensive. I'm shocked as well. 2 stars
12/21/02 take1 Very enjoyable 5 stars
12/21/02 RS This could and should have been a good film. It wasn't. 1 stars
12/18/02 geekLove disturbed. Not a good date movie = the husband (me) turns gay, wife (date) loves gardener. 3 stars
12/17/02 steve interesting film for those that love "film," but honestly, it left me feeling cold. 3 stars
12/16/02 Cory Phaeus Moore and Quaid's "acting" is so patently phony, I am astounded the "critics" loved them. 1 stars
12/16/02 This Charming Man perfect period piece - excellent acting 5 stars
12/16/02 Stephen Essential viewing 5 stars
12/15/02 john Score detracts, attempts at saluting sirk distracts, story is weak 2 stars
12/14/02 Mike G Julianne Moore's acting and the set design is amazing! 5 stars
12/10/02 renegade mike the struggle to achieve in atmosphere got in the way of a really compelling story 2 stars
12/09/02 AgainstTheGrain This movie was an academic exercise. Save money, rent a Douglas Sirk movie! 2 stars
12/08/02 Flora P. Re establishes racial boundaries, Negro as spiritual help for troubled white woman 2 stars
12/07/02 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
11/25/02 marzio arigoni@rtsi.ch What a nice surprise: good film, superb cinematography, Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid sim 5 stars
11/20/02 Kenmeister Well-made, well -acted melodrama. The only part that rings false is Raymond. 4 stars
11/09/02 Ariya Best film of the year 5 stars
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  08-Nov-2002 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-Apr-2003



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