Far from Heaven (2002) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis
Director: Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Todd Haynes
Review published November 14, 2002
In 1955, Douglas Sirk directed another of his sudsy romances, the now classic, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. As of this writing, I haven't seen this film, but have read that it provided much of the backbone for which Todd Haynes' new film, FAR FROM HEAVEN, is built around. Looking at the main plotlines, they are somewhat similar in structure. The 50s flick is about a widow that causes a stir among the ladies of her town by cavorting with her gardener, considered to be far beneath her class, not only because she is wealthy, but older. She has to choose between what she wants to do in her heart and what society dictates is appropriate for someone in her social position.
FAR FROM HEAVEN has a similar problem for the heroine, Cathy, in that she must confront a situation where her heart tells her one thing, but to go that course would meet the disapproval of all others around her. Her situation is far more complicated, as her husband, Frank, is still alive, but even when he's there, he isn't. It seems that he is struggling with his homosexuality, but doesn't want to be one, so when Cathy finds him engaged in a kiss with another man, he consents to psychiatric treatment meant to turn him back into the loving heterosexual husband Cathy thought she married. Things are difficult enough keeping under wraps when more fuel is added to the fire in the form of her handsome, but negro (the non-PC term of the times) gardener, who offers her consolation in her time of need. Never really developing beyond a friendship, this doesn't stop the local ladies from gossiping their disapproval, making everyone around her appalled, including Frank, that the rumors of her engaged in a fling with her Black gardener could be true.
Haynes lavishly recreates the look and feel of the 50s soap movies, from the sets and costumes, titles, music, right down to the Technicolor look. Color is very vital to the mood of the story, mostly using reds and greens, and using other colors when something important needs to stand out, such as the scarf Cathy wears that blows in the wind only to be found by the gardener, Raymond. Obviously, not everything is how it was in the themes and content, as the subject matter of homosexuality and a possible interracial romance was very much taboo at the time. There is also a bit of strong language and some talk amongst the women about how many times a week their husbands "want it," but Haynes isn't trying to do a remake, but a revision, so lots of artistic license should be allowed.
The best thing about the film, other than the knowing recreations of the romances of old, comes from the creation of characters that we care about. We like Cathy and Raymond, especially as acted by Moore and Haysbert, and we feel equally pained that two people with good in their hearts should not be allowed to even be seen in public together as friends without stirring up the town to the brim of violence. Quaid plays the part well of a man confronting deep emotional pain, detesting all that he is, while not being able to keep from embracing it. He isn't played for sympathy, but when you see his mild-mannered nature later in the film, it makes us realize that he is now a man at peace with what he is. There's terrific performances all around, but Moore is clearly the one to watch.
FAR FROM HEAVEN is a good drama, even if you are unfamiliar with the films with which it draws inspiration. Fans of Moore should be very pleased with yet another Academy Award worthy performance, and aficionados of Todd Haynes will add another solid film to their collection. As a revised look at the 50s, it only calls to mind how we shouldn't really long for the nostalgic days of old we see on television and the old movies, as under the veneer of good cheer lies an ugly repression, with everyone trapped by having to live life the way others want them to live.
©2005 Vince Leo