Far From Heaven

The first thing one notices about Far From Heaven is the color. They are vibrant and bright, unnaturally bright like in an old technicolor movie. In fact, writer/director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Safe) modeled Far From Heaven as a throwback to older movies, especially those of Douglas Sirk. Far From Heaven superficially matches the story of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, and has some of the melodramatic elements and artificial speech of similar movies from the era. It is a marvelous looking movie, gloriously delighting in each hue, vividly brought to life and complemented by a trio of exceptionally talented actors.

Haynes wrote the role of Cathy Whitaker specifically for Julianne Moore (The Shipping News, World Traveler), and she is the emotional fulcrum of the story. Everything deals with Cathy and affects her and the way that everybody perceives her. Far From Heaven takes place in the fifties, with Americana in full swing. Life is perfect on the surface, and everybody is in their own little world. Cathy's world comes crashing down when she discovers her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid, The Rookie, Traffic) in the arms of another man. Divorce is unknown enough, homosexuality worse. Distraught, she turns to Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert, Love and Basketball, What's Cooking?), who provides a friendly ear. The only problem is that Raymond is her black gardener.

Interracial relations may be the worst sin of all, and once the town finds out, Cathy finds herself castigated from all social circles. Yet Cathy still tries to pretend that nothing is wrong. It is as if pretending things are okay will make all the wrongs right themselves, and she does all she can to retain some sense of normalcy. Things on the surface look pretty, but everything underneath is ugly. Cathy is beginning to realize this, and it throws her entire worldview awry. The way she is treated begins to open her eyes to what is really going on, and she doesn't like it at all. And the more she gravitates towards Raymond, the more she realizes that he is a decent man. The real irony is that initially, she harbors no romantic feelings towards Raymond. She sees him simply as a friend, until the rumor mill begins its work.

Haysbert is one of the more underappreciated actors working today. He is good here as somebody who is decent, and nearly utterly bland. He needs to be this way so that Cathy can see that yes, he is a normal person. Just as normal is Quaid, whose character feels that he is aberrant. He tries to do what he can to 'fix' himself, and trying to reconcile his desires with his ideas of right and wrong are tearing him apart inside. Moore takes this to the next level, looking as if she is living the confusion her character is undergoing. Her world is upending, and every sort of support she would normally turn to is forsaking her.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and language.

Back to Movies