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Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Don Knotts, J.T. Walsh, William H. Macy, Joan Allen


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Let me start off with a side note - everyone should take a moment or two out of their day, be it today or someday soon, to remember the genius that is J.T. Walsh. Reflect on this film, on "A Few Good Men," on "The Negotiator," on "Sling Blade" and on all his great film work and be sad that this guy isn't around anymore to follow up on what would surely be a star-making gig in a high-profile film like this.

Let us also rejoice in the fact that Don Knotts is the magical mystery man that makes this entire movie happen. Any movie in which Don Knotts contains power beyond those of mortal men is a good film.

"Pleasantville" is, well, pleasant, if not completely compelling. It's an neat little tale about two teen siblings, David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) who get sucked into the mythical idyllic 50s sitcom town of the same name by a strange remote control given to them by Lord Knotts (in his guise as a TV repairman). All of a sudden, their parents are suddenly William H. Macy and Joan Allen, everything is in black and white, everything repeats endlessly and nobody knows about anything that never happened in the show. The stability of the show is what makes misfit David such a hard-core fan, since his parents seem to care naught for him, while the popular Jen is immediately in, to use the hip term all the young 'uns are using, "Squaresville." Soon, the kids start introducing wacky modern concepts like color and sex to the people of the town, and all heck breaks loose - according to the elder townsfolk and Mayor Big Bob (the aforementioned genius J.T. Walsh), which leads them to try to put a stop to it and keep everyone thinking in black and white.

Writer/Director Gary Ross manages to weave some clever social statements into the film, hopefully illustrating to the more ignorant among Caucasians why there is no reason that "colored people" (to use a term from the movie) of the real world should have to feel ashamed of anything as wonderful and treasured as color, and he does it in a slow pace that is necessitated by the basic theme of the story - enjoy every little thing you notice about life. Ross shows us each and every little thing he can, and he also takes his sweet time doing it to make sure we don't miss a single one of them. Fortunately, the color effects are so often brilliant in blending the grayscale and color worlds seamlessly, even in the tiniest details - a half-second shot of a car radio, for instance - that the pacing is hardly a bother at all. There's just so much to marvel at.

The film is also an indictment of a good deal of conservative politics - ideology that steadfastly believes that everything was better back in the 50s and if we would all just stop all this "change" and "enjoying personal freedoms" and go back to the way things were, everything would be all right again. Macy's incredulous reaction to the fact that Allen has taken a liking to being in color and doesn't really want to cook his dinner anymore is probably a similar reaction to the one Jesse Helms had when he learned that homosexuals didn't want to stay in the closet and deprive themselves of the pursuit of happiness anymore. I can see him wandering around the halls of Congress, murmuring "Homos are bad! Homos are bad!" in the vain hope that someone will be there to listen to him and take him seriously. Of course, Macy secretly would like to be in color as well, so... we can just imagine what it might say about Ol' Jesse.

Anyway, mandating conformity in a society of individuals is a lost cause, as Big Bob and the townsfolk learn, and it's a nice thought that, in the end, nothing is "supposed to be" anything - there is no plan for every person's life, and that uncertainty is not something that should be feared, but it's something to be embraced and reveled in. Sit back, enjoy the ride, don't worry so much. A good sentiment.

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