Far From Heaven
**** GM
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis


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This movie is one long emotional ache.

It's a very quiet, subdued tale of the Hollywood-typical 50s family (breadwinner Frank [Quaid], homemaker Cathy [Moore], two wonderful children) in a Hollywood-typical setting (colorful and vibrantly peaceful suburbia) interacting in a Hollywood-typical fashion (everybody's perfectly behaved, knows their role and shuts their mouths) that somehow manages to be subtle and over-the-top at the same time. This put me off at first, but once it began to weave real-world subplots into this unreal family, the true magic of the film really starts to take effect.

Keep in mind that I am not one prone to using the term 'magic' very often in any sort of movie discussion, but the somber and solemn mood blending with the tranquil manufactured pleasantness of the setting creates a feeling that I'm having a hard time trying to describe without using that word. Rest assured, though, it's not the kind of magic that relates to "Disney animation" or freakin' Harry Potter. It's a darker, subversive sort of magic that is definitely not fun for the entire family.

They have the perfect seeming home, as does everyone on their street, but Cathy is feeling the onset of discontent. Her relationship with Frank is growing distant, made worse when she discovers that he's been hiding his homosexuality from everyone. While Frank goes into therapy to try to 'beat this thing,' he remains distant and consumed by his struggle, while Cathy finds solace with Raymond (Haysbert), her landscaper that offers a kind shoulder to lean on to draw her away from her troubles. As they spend more time together, though, not only do they feel drawn to each other, but their respective societies disapprove rather violently of their presumed interracial relationship, even though they've become nothing more than friends... so far.

I used to have some unexplainable aversion to Julianne Moore, but I'm getting over that rather quickly. This incredibly nuanced (ugh, I'm trotting out all the 'review' words I try to avoid) performance as well as her stealing of the show in The Hours really makes a strong case for her to be someone to pay attention to no matter what she's appearing in (Hannibal notwithstanding). Her ability to project heartache onto an audience is profound. She can make a man weep.

The Swingin' Dennis Boys also provide depth and support to the gutwrenching story. Quaid's futile fight against his own nature tears at him and the viewer, as it's obvious that he desperately wants to spare his family and himself from the pain giving in to himself would cause them. Haysbert is very soothing, a seeming anchor for Cathy's storm until his own world is thrown into chaos as well, and this allows him to give a strong performance that lets him overcome the major league hurdle in my mind that makes me say "Fuck you, Jobu" every time he shows up.

It took me a while to warm up to this film - the "hyper-unreality" of it all stiffarmed me for a bit, until everything started sinking in and sneaking bits and pieces of truth beneath the pretty surfaces. Once I got involved, though, Moore brought the rest of it home with her quiet angst, holding herself together as she's supposed to, despite her mounting problems, until she finally allows herself to crack, giving an emotional release we hadn't realized we needed until she sets it free.

It's a beautiful, magical trip down heartache lane.

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