A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Oscar-nominated melodrama deals with mature, complex issues, including prejudice, sexuality, and adultery. Characters make anti-Semitic and racist comments; there's also some drinking and smoking. One character gets drunk in an attempt to numb the pain he feels about not being true to himself.
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What's the story?
The 1950s was a time of peace and plenty, but it was also a time of conformity. It was especially inconvenient to be female, gay, or black. In FAR FROM HEAVEN, characters struggle with all three. Cathy Whitaker's (Julianne Moore) life seems perfect. She lives in an immaculate, stylish suburban home with her husband and two perfect children. She spends her days caring for her family, organizing social events for her husband's company and for the community, and talking to her friends, whose lives all seem exactly like hers. Everyone knows the rules and the rules seem to work. But Cathy's husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is struggling with his longing for other men and with the self-hatred it engenders. When he is picked up by the police, Cathy believes his story that it was a mistake. But then she decides to bring him dinner when he is working late one night and discovers him kissing another man. Frank goes to a doctor who is, well, frank about the likelihood of a "cure." And just as Frank needs an honest relationship, Cathy does, too. She begins to feel drawn to Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), her gardener, who is black.
Is it any good?
Though the point of view of the movie is sympathetic, it feels somewhat distant. Writer/director Todd Haynes sets his story not in the world of the 1950s but in the world of 1950s movies. It is inspired by the films of Douglas Sirk, whose specialty was stories of women suffering nobly in fabulous clothes. Far From Heaven is a tribute to Sirk's All that Heaven Allows, in which widow Jane Wyman loses her heart to gardener Rock Hudson. Like the character who inspired him, the gardener played by Rock Hudson, Raymond symbolizes the natural man in an artificial world, and Haysbert plays him with dignity, warmth, and a subtle magnetism that shows us how Cathy can feel safe enough to allow herself to be drawn to him.
Moore and Quaid, too, give performances of breathtaking sensitivity and courage. But it is not clear whether the movie is set in the 1950s as a way to show us what Sirk could only hint at about that era or whether it is an attempt to say something about our own. It is tempting to distance ourselves from the problems faced by the people in this movie. They have no context or vocabulary to talk about the disconnect between what they feel and what they are expected to feel. While Sirk's movies can still move me to tears, this movie did not. The meticulous re-creation of the movies of the era, down to the style of the credits and the music by the legendary Elmer Bernstein, feels more elegiac than immediate, more admirable than involving.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the story is set in the 1950s and about what's changed since then. Younger family members may want to know more about the older members' recollections of that era. Did Raymond and Frank make different choices when it came to what was best for their children? What do those children think about what's going on around them? How will filmmakers 50 years from now see today's movies and what will they pick to pay tribute to?
- In theaters: November 8, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: April 1, 2003
- Cast: Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid, Julianne Moore
- Director: Todd Haynes
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and language
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