Friday, November 15, 2002

Far From Heaven (IMDB) (Netflix)
It's 1957-1958, the International Geophysical Year, when life was simpler and more genteel, a seemingly idyllic time of family values that some wish we could return to. But probably not Julianne Moore's character, who's got an alcoholic husband (Dennis Quaid) trying to "cure" his latent homosexuality, a "colored" gardener (Dennis Haysbert) with whom she feels a special kinship, and scandalized friends who are no help whatsoever.

This is a restrained, thoughtful melodrama that re-creates a period in America when the tension between personal desires and societal norms bubbled beneath the surface, waiting to explode a few years later in the 60's. It's the semi-modern American version of a Jane Austen novel, and tricky stuff that could easily have become clich├ęd in the realization. Fortunately, the writer-director and actors keep a lid on the material, creating just enough pressure to rattle the pot but not blow its contents all over the ceiling. The Moore and Haysbert characters are a little too saintly, but not so much that you can't feel for their plight, and Quaid's performance is brave without being ostentatious. A film for the thoughtful adult.