Movie Review: Pleasantville (1998)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1998 movie starring Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon.

Synopsis: Twins David and Jennifer couldn't be more opposite. She is promiscuous and popular while he is shy and prefers to escape by watching re-runs of classic television shows. This includes his favorite, Pleasantville. When the siblings get in a fight over the TV and accidentally break the remote, they are visited by a mysterious TV repairman who gives them a replacement that transports them into Pleasantville. However, as their modern ideas are introduced to the wholesome television community the black and white Pleasantville residents become colorized as they discover new passions, causing chaos in the community.


I came across this movie on Netflix earlier this week and, realizing I hadn't seen it in a while, decided to take the time to watch it again. I ended up doing that, over the course of a couple days, while home for lunch. And, I can honestly say I didn't regret this choice.

This movie is typically advertised as a comedy. However, even though there are some funny moments, especially toward the beginning (I personally love the cat-rescuing fire department), I think this film, much like with "The Cable Guy" and some other movies, is actually more of a drama. And, as a drama, it's actually pretty decent.

The thing I liked best about this movie was, even though things were originally thrown for a loop by Jennifer (Witherspoon) deciding to introduce sex to the Pleasantville world, that did not end up being the primary focus. Instead, the sudden colorization of various residents was more about self discovery. This includes the local soda shop owner (Daniels), who really wants to be an artist and high school students being able to read real books for the first time and, as a result becoming curious about the world outside their town.

The way the colorization disrupted the town was also interesting as the more conservative, black-and-white, citizens did their best to stop the changes using everything from segregation to book burning and violence. Many concepts in this movie are actually still relevant even today.

Another thing I found I liked about this film was the sporadic symbolism thrown in, such as David (Maguire) taking an apple from his Pleasantville girlfriend (Marley Shelton) just like Adam and Eve.

I'm still a little undecided about Don Knott's TV repairman character. On one hand, I do like the mystery surrounding him. But, at the same time, I'm still not fully sure what his motivation for sending the twins into Pleasantville was. Did he not realize they risked changing the town? Or, was that his intention to begin with? Also, was Jennifer being sent an accident? Or, did he intend on sending her (a non-fan) there too? It would have been nice to get some clarification about that, even though it honestly doesn't hurt the film either.

Final Opinion

If you watch this movie thinking it will be a funny comedy, you're likely going to be disappointed. However, if you don't care about the limited laughs, this movie is actually an entertaining film that is worth taking the time to watch.

My Grade: B

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Updated: 05/19/2016, StevenHelmer
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