10 Jun


Imagine you got sucked in to your favourite television programme, and the people there were living out their lives for real, completely unaware that they were part of a show. That would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it? Well that’s the fantasy construct that sets up the story for Pleasantville.

Pleasantville is the favourite TV show of David (Tobey Maguire). He watches it obsessively and he and knows literally everything about it. There is no little piece of trivia that he isn’t aware of. He’s painted as uncool and a geek. His sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), on the other hand, is the complete opposite. She’s one of the cool kids (she smokes at school for god’s sake! How much cooler can you get?). She doesn’t really like her brother, what with them being complete opposites. When David and Jennifer break into an argument over whether they watch Pleasantville or a concert Jennifer wants to see, they get thrown into the TV, taking the place of two young characters in Pleasantville. Just as with everything else there, they are also now in black and white.

Their transition is seamless, so none of the inhabitants of Pleasantville notice the difference between David and Jennifer and the characters they have replaced. Although initially they want to get back home, the pair soon realise they are trapped and have to make the most of their situation. As they travel around the place, the two discover that everything in Pleasantville is sickly sweet. It’s too perfect. Nobody swears (everything is ‘just swell’), nobody has even heard of sex, it never rains and the basketball team has never lost (it’s impossible for them to even miss a shot).


Jennifer, rebellious young lady that she is, finds it all too much. She scores herself a date with one of the cooler guys and, despite David’s warnings that she can’t mess with anything, she teaches him all about the birds and the bees (with a practical lesson taking place). As this happens, more and more inhabitants of Pleasantville start having sex, and some actual colour starts appearing around the place. It starts off subtle, with just the odd leaf or maybe a car no longer being in black and white, but gradually people and larger parts of the environment find themselves turning to technicolour. I have to say, the effects that created this look impressive. It perhaps doesn’t seem that brilliant with the special effects available today, but when some of the picture is in colour and the rest isn’t, the film is beautiful.

In a way that I wasn’t expecting when I started watching this movie, Pleasantville tries to deal with some social issues that I hadn’t imagined it would. There is a sense that people start to feel liberated by the changes in their environment. When wives start forgetting to make their husband’s dinners or iron their shirts badly, things start to get serious. The men of Pleasantville decide something has to be done. Lead by Big Bob (J.T. Walsh), what we start to see after this is a level of oppression from people in power who are scared of change. The good folk of Pleasantville have believed for too long that their lives are perfect, but David and Jennifer show them there is much more to life than what they already have.


The changing colour of the environment is a tried and tested way of highlighting a transition from old to new in cinema. Pleasantville uses this method very well. The older members of their society do everything they can to stop the change and we see hints of racism towards the characters now resplendent in colour. The way the movie moves from painting Pleasantville as perfect, to bringing about a severe division in it’s community, is impressive and the story has a good flow to it.

I enjoyed the casting of this film. Tobey Maguire predictably does a good job as a geeky young man. He suits the parts down to the ground, and the same can be said as Reese Witherspoon. She manages to stay just the right side of irritating, which given the nature of her character, is probably the right way for her to have played it.

There are strong supporting performances from William H. Macy and Joan Allen as the in-programme parents of David and Jennifer. Their relationship is used for a microscopic analysis on the changes sweeping through Pleasantville. We see the change in their roles to each other, just as the wider society is struggling to adapt to what is happening to it. I found both of their performances to be excellent. Jeff Daniels also supports well as a café owner and wannabe artist. His character highlights more than most the repressed feelings hiding in all of Pleasantville’s inhabitants.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. I would suggest at times it’s target audience isn’t particularly obvious, at first feeling like a teen-movie, before turning a little more adult in certain places. Its highlighting of how society deals with change is effective, although perhaps not always as powerful as it thinks it is. The picture often looks beautiful, and all-in-all I found this to be an enjoyable film, and certainly one I would say is worth a watch, though perhaps not one I’ll be in a rush to see again.



2 Responses to “Pleasantville”

  1. andrean20 June 10, 2013 at 14:49 #

    Reblogged this on Welcome to Filmtube!.

  2. 1894tony June 14, 2013 at 04:47 #

    a quality review, sounds interesting and its made me want to watch it

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