Reviews & Quotes

Review: “Far From Heaven”

December 9, 2002

Picture: producers Christine Vachon, Jody Patton
Director, screenplay: Todd Haynes
Actress: Julianne Moore
Supporting actor: Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert
Cinematography: Ed Lachman
Production design: Mark Friedberg
Costume design: Sandy Powell
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Editing: James Lyons

The prospect of Todd Haynes being an Oscar fave might have seemed odd a few years ago, when he was known for offbeat arthouse fare like “Poison,” “Safe” and “Velvet Goldmine.” But with “Far From Heaven,” the San Fernando Valley-born and -raised director has made one of his cinematic obsessions — the ornate ’50s melodramas of Douglas Sirk — into an across-the-board critical hit with breakout audience potential. So far, this movie has as good a shot as any to dominate the awards this season.

Lovingly re-creating the hues, sounds and emotions of so-called women’s films from Sirk’s era, the movie gently and poignantly explores themes of homosexuality, race relations and female repression without resorting to hip ironic detachment or easy kitschy nostalgia.

Julianne Moore plays a Connecticut housewife who must contend with the hidden homosexuality of her tortured husband (Dennis Quaid) and the stinging gossip surrounding her burgeoning friendship with a compassionate black gardener (Dennis Haysbert).

Moore, previously nominated for “The End of the Affair” and “Boogie Nights,” could garner another actress nom for her politely devastating turn, while perennially ignored thesp Quaid has his best chance at a statuette in years. A good bet to join Quaid in the supporting category is co-star Haysbert, whose radiance onscreen practically qualifies him for a special lighting award.

The movie’s appeal beyond performances need not rest with any one group, either. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters with liberal-leaning views will certainly cotton to writer-director Haynes’ intelligence and honesty about another era’s social issues, while those who live and breathe the art of film can admire the painstaking aesthetics of the filmmaker’s vision.

Older Academy members also might view “Far From Heaven” as a movie right out of their past, its comforting professionalism an oasis among more ham-fisted modern fare.

Tech noms are near shoo-ins for Ed Lachman’s dazzling photography, already honored at the Venice Film Festival, and costumer Sandy Powell (previously Oscar nominated for Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine” and a winner that same year for “Shakespeare in Love”).

Thirteen-time nominee Elmer Bernstein, 80, provides one of his all-time great scores, both an airy homage to the melodies of soundtracks past and a gracefully melancholy partner to Haynes’ story.

© 2002 Reed Business InformationÊÊ© 2002 Variety, Inc.

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