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"Far From Heaven" is a 1950's throwback."
"Cinematographer Edward Lachman's images are as beautiful as autumn leaves falling in suburbia."
Far From Heaven  

Cast

Cathy Whitaker: Julianne Moore
Frank Whitaker: Dennis Quaid
Raymond Deagan: Dennis Haysbert
Eleanor Fine: Patricia Clarkson
Sybil: Viola Davis
Review November 2002

Much like the Jones', the Whitakers have it all: a plush house replete with a maid and gardener, an active social life consisting of swank parties and soirees, and a picture perfect family with two lovely and respectful children. In fact, they are so well known in the community that they are commonly referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Magnatech - a title in reference to the many advertisements they've appeared in together. Life is pretty, gosh darn good except for one mysterious detail about Mr. Whitaker: He is in love with someone else and that someone else is another man.

While Cathy tends to typical homemaker duties, Frank is at work at Magnatech, a high-class ad agency where he is well respected. The two would appear to be on top of the world so to speak, but something isn't quite right with Frank's behavior as of late. He's been working late, getting in trouble with the law, and beginning to develop signs of alcoholism, all the while distancing himself from his wife and children.

One night, concerned about her husband's well being, Cathy decides to bring Frank dinner at the office. But to her surprise, she finds Frank kissing another man in his office and retreats in shock. Eventually, Cathy takes Frank to see a doctor about his recurring condition. But the doctor can only suggest aversion therapy, a type of therapy that has only a mild chance of success. While Frank continues to struggle at work and cope with his 'affliction,' Cathy begins to take solace in a comforting gardener: Raymond Deagan, a man who has wisdom beyond his years. However, to complicate matters, Deagan is black, and her relationship with him, innocent as it may be, begins to swirl in the discriminate Connecticut town.

Meanwhile, because of Frank's odd behavior, Magnatech decides to give him mandatory time off and both he and Cathy take a well-needed vacation in Miami. Yet, while there, Frank catches the eye of a young man and the two sneak off for a romantic encounter unbeknownst to Cathy. As news of Cathy's relationship with Deagan spreads across town, Frank begins to drink heavily. Furthermore, when Frank learns of Cathy's friendship with Deagan, things take a sour turn with no peaceful recourse.

"Far From Heaven" is a 1950's throwback. From the Golden Age of television, it's got you're "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Leave It to Beaver" type feel. But remove the glossy exterior and you'll find that it's not your typical 'awe shucks' type of film. Underneath all the glitz and glamour, there is a darker story to be told - one that would have been considered taboo at the time, involving homosexuality, discrimination, and repression.

On the surface, I really loved the look and feel of this film. It was classic 50's noir - from the automobiles and the clothing to the dialogue and set pieces. Inspired by Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows," director Todd Haynes captures the mood perfectly and cinematographer Edward Lachman's images are as beautiful as autumn leaves falling in suburbia. The attitudes and mannerisms are dead on where Julianne Moore wonderfully captures the happy homemaker torn asunder and Dennis Haysbert gives the quiet, gentle performance of a man on the outside looking in.

In addition to the look and feel, this film boldly goes where no 50's melodrama has gone before, hitting on controversial issues in a manor that is fitting for the time. It confronts homosexuality, discrimination, and a woman's role in society with brutal honesty while maintaining the carefree atmosphere of 50's suburban life - a very difficult balance to sustain. For the most part, characters convey their attitudes about such topics by whispering or avoiding them all together. And there is a lot of finger pointing as Cathy's relationship with Deagan escalates into scarlet letter status.

The only knock on this film lies in coincidental circumstances inserted to move the story along. For instance, without invitation or warning, Deagan appears at the Whitakers house to work in the garden because his father passed away; a young man eyes Frank while in Miami and before you know it, they are in bed together; and lastly and a little unbelievably, despite telling Cathy he's going to beat this thing no matter what, Frank is able to decisively throw away everything that he has taken a lifetime to build including his job, wife, and children for his new love.

Unlike "I Love Lucy" or "The Honeymooners" of 50's television, there is no happy or whimsical ending to this drama. Although Cathy suggests a romantic interest with Deagan, Deagan is too pessimistic about the probability of acceptance. "I don't think that would be a good idea," he says while hopping on a train to Baltimore. If only times were different.



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