Far From Heaven (2002)

Directed by Todd Haynes

I hate the fact I was influenced by Oscar hype around this movie. It created expectations and, frankly, Far From Heaven didn’t meet them. The fault lies partly in the hype for creating the expectations. Primarily, however, the fault is in the film – and with my personal tastes, I suppose.

Far From Heaven is an homage to the melodramatic films of the 1950’s, particularly those of Douglas Sirk (such as Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows, and Imitation of Life). There are two problems with this. First, I don’t really care much for a film that is an “homage.” I’d just as soon watch the movies it is an homage to.

The second problem is those 50s soap opera films – I’m not a big fan of them, so a tribute is going to fall a bit flat with me. These movies are so melodramatic, so over-the-top in their stories and acting (not to mention music and other elements), that they’re difficult to watch (though there are some exceptions).

In Far From Heaven, some of these elements are even more extreme, while some others are more restrained. Thus, there is something of an imbalance. The story, for one, is in certain ways even more excessive than those of the 50s.

It focuses on two socially troublesome items: a nice middle-class wife is perceived as being involved in an inter-racial relationship with a black man, and her husband is a closet homosexual! Good grief.

In life, this probably wouldn’t be so far-fetched. But in movies, especially one evoking the period of the 1950s, it’s only credible as social satire. Since Far From Heaven isn’t satire (at least not that I can tell), it’s simply … too unbelievable. Yes, it’s melodrama but it’s even too much for this.

On the other hand, the performances by the actors are perfect, particularly with the three leads: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quiad, and Dennis Haysbert. Quiad is especially good – it’s probably the best work he’s done.

Visually, the film tries to evoke the look of those 1950 Douglas Sirk films and to a large degree it succeeds. However, it’s a little too rich, a little too lacking in the extremes of contrast of the earlier films (even bright colours, like sky, have a dull tone).

In the end, the film was dull for me. Perhaps the problem lay in the films Far From Heaven models itself on and gives homage to, those movies of Douglas Sirk. A better model would have been 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, which is also melodramatic but succeeds by exercising restraint while still going over-the-top.

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