Todd Haynes’s candy-colored “Far From Heaven” is a high-style high-wire act, a meticulous re-creation of the melodramatic “women’s pictures” of the 1950s. Haynes’s movie, set in 1957 Hartford, Conn., is a homage to such Douglas Sirk movies as “All That Heaven Allows” and “Imitation of Life.” But here the sexual and racial subtexts of those films are placed right on the lacquered surface.
THE AFFLUENT, PICTURE-PERFECT middle-class marriage of Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid) unravels when she discovers her husband’s secret homosexuality, and spins further out of orbit when Cathy finds herself romantically drawn to her “Negro” gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert).
Initially, with its lush, romantic score, its dated ’50s expressions (“Criminy! Jeez!”), its housewives in mink stoles, “Far From Heaven” might seem on the edge of parody. But Haynes (“Safe”) refuses the safety net of condescension or camp. He plays it straight, soliciting tears, not snickers, asking us to acknowledge our commonality with these repressed, formal people. It may be a movie about movies, but the artifice doesn’t contradict the movie’s plangent emotional realism. Moore’s stunning, subtle performance as a woman trapped in the conventions of her time encapsulates the film’s brave, double-edged beauty.
© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.