"Pleasantville" is a pretty nice place to visit for a while. But to be honest, a two-hour trip there seems like too much of a good thing.
Despite the fact that it runs on too long, this comic fable from writer-director Gary Ross, the co-creator of "Big" and "Dave," still has an uncanny knack for sneaking in social commentary when you least expect it. And visually, the film is so stunning that it makes up for some obvious storytelling deficiencies.
Also, there's no denying the strength of the film's performances, which includes terrific supporting character turns from William H. Macy, Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels.
This high-concept comedy follows two teen siblings, David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), who find themselves zapped into David's favorite television program — "Pleasantville," a black-and-white, '50s sitcom where everyone (and life, for that matter) is always pleasant.
But the community begins seeing some profound differences almost immediately as the teens introduce '90s ideas into this seeming Utopia. Jennifer brings worldly, sensual sensibilities, while David supplies more intellectual elements.
Their subversion manifests itself physically with bursts of color, beginning with a rose and then spreading like wildfire.
As the two siblings find some willing converts to their way of thinking, such as their innocent "mother" (Allen), they encounter resistance from others, including the town's tradition-minded mayor, Big Bob (J.T. Walsh), and their "father" (Macy).
As you can probably tell, the story takes on a Garden of Eden-like flavor. But it isn't as innocent as you might hope for, and the fact that the movie attacks '50s innocence is a bit off-putting.
Still, it scores nicely with points about censorship and race discrimination — both of which are quite subtle. And the film wisely maintains a spirit of light-heartedness, due largely to the filmmaker's mostly brisk pacing.
Also, the cast is very good. Maguire and Witherspoon both wisely avoid becoming stereotypes, as do the actors playing the townspeople. In particular, Allen and Daniels give almost heartbreaking performances.
(However, Don Knotts, who has a cameo role as a mysterious television repairman, is distractingly over the top.)
"Pleasantville" is rated PG-13 for profanity, use of double-entendres and vulgar slang, nude artwork (displayed very prominently), simulated sex (mostly overheard), a fistfight, rioting and use of racial epithets.