Pleasantville

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Pleasantville Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking look at past and present teen life.
  • PG-13
  • 1998
  • 124 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 12 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 10 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

The series underscores the need for living life to the fullest, the beauty that comes with making individual choices, and about the importance of recognizing both the idyllic and the ugly in order to do so. Tolerance of change and of difference, marriage, and divorce are also themes.

Positive role models & representations

David (a.k.a. Bud) takes responsibility for gently leading Pleasantville out of its naive existence, and tries to be a positive role model. Jennifer (a.k.a. Mary Sue) is less gentle, but begins to redefine who she as a result of the experience. Some Pleasantville community members promote intolerance. David and Jennifer's mother is having relationship issues.

Violence

Intolerance leads to some angry, riotous behavior, including the smashing of windows, looting, and a fist fight. A bloody lip is visible.

Sex

Mostly we see flirting, kissing, and couples making out in cars, with perhaps some feet sticking out of a car window. (These teens are just becoming aware of sex.) A mom character masturbates in a bathtub and moans loudly. She is married, but begins an affair with another man; he paints her nude and displays the painting in his shop window. A character uses the word "slut" to describe herself. Overall, the movie manages to imply sex-on-the-brain without resorting to talk, such as showing the image of a double-bed in a store window, complete with a concerned crowd of onlookers outside.

Language

Language is somewhat strong, but isn't frequent. "F--k" is used once, and "s--t" can be heard a few times. The term "Jesus Christ" is frequently used. Words like "hell," "bitch," "goddamn," and "s--t" are occasionally audible.

Consumerism

Logos like Buick and Cadillac visible on cars.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

A teenager is shown smoking; a reference is made to "dying for a cigarette."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pleasantville contains lots of messages about living life to the fullest, the need for passion, and the courage to accept change. Sexual situations are frequent (including some loud moaning and paintings of nude figures), but a fair share of the references will go over young kids' heads. The term "Jesus Christ" is audible; words like "hell," "bitch," "s--t," and "f--k" are used a few times, too. Intolerant behavior leads to some riotous behavior (and a bloody lip). Teen smoking is briefly visible. All this being said, the main teen characters are strong and become positive role models.

User Reviews

Adult Written bySusanPaul April 9, 2008

Not for younger than 13

This movie covers good issues - but a daughter teaching her mom to masturbate, then watching it as her husband listens, is a bit much for most kids not in high... Continue reading
Parent of a 17 year old Written byJaxnurse July 19, 2010

Could've had a good message, but inappropirate scenes

Too many uses of God's name, many uses of Jesus Christ, some mild cuss words. Scene where Reese Witherspoon is talking to a boy in a car about his physica... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bybananalover March 6, 2011
Teen, 17 years old Written byHazel Li May 3, 2011

Recommend for teenagers >= 15 years old

Changes, as we all know, are necessary. Without changes, we cannot even identify who we are, what are our real characters and what are our own mistakes to be wa... Continue reading

What's the story?

David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are well aware of the messy complications of the modern world. David retreats into reruns of "Pleasantville," an idyllic black and white 1950s television show. And Jennifer is something of a self-described "slut." When they get ahold of a magic remote control, David and Jennifer are changed into Pleasantville's Bud and Mary Sue. The twins can't help reveal Pleasantville's limits, and begin to transform it. Mary Sue mischievously introduces the idea of sex to classmates, and then, more sensitively, to her Pleasantville mother (Joan Allen). Bud tells them about a world where people can go against status quo. As the characters begin to change, they and their surroundings bloom into color. But some residents of Pleasantville are threatened and terrified by the changes. "No colored" signs appear in store windows, new rules are imposed, and tensions mount.

Is it any good?

Parents and teens alike will find many things to think and talk about after watching this engaging movie. Pleasantville draws parallels to Nazi Germany (book burning) and American Jim Crow laws ("No colored" signs), and the challenges of independent thinking. High schoolers may appreciate the way that the twins, at first retreating in different ways from the problems of the modern world, find that the rewards of the examined life make it ultimately worthwhile.

Also intriguing is the path of Jennifer's character. At first, she thinks that it is sex that turns the black and white characters into color. But when she stays "pasty," she realizes that the colors reveal something more subtle and meaningful -- the willingness to challenge the accepted and opening oneself up to honest reflection about one's own feelings and longings.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how sex is portrayed in the movie. Is it exploitative or educational? Even though much of the sexual activity is implied, what messages does it send about sexual situations, especially among teenagers?

  • Parents: What are some of the ways you can talk to your kids about some of the issues presented here?

  • Would you prefer to live in the 1950s, or in modern times? Which does the movie seem to prefer?

Movie details

For kids who love quirky movies

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