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(September 2002)

Pleasantville & One Terrific Cast!

Tobey MaguireThis is not a review of Pleasantville; a fine but flawed fantasy film from 1998, but is a notice of the outstanding, spectacular cast who performed therein. The movie is about a contemporary teenage brother and sister who are magically transported back to a perfect, black and white 1950s bit of Americana as seen, in the movie, on TV as an “Ozzie and Harriet” type of show called “Pleasantville”. The first-time director Gary Ross was a screenwriter with Big (1988) and Dave (1993) to his keyboard credit.

Tobey Maguire, an actor we greatly admire not the least of which is because we don’t know how he does it. He always has a seemingly calm demeanor but then so convincingly conveys the emotions of the character he’s playing in whatever scene he’s performing. In this movie he plays David, the reclusive and television besotted brother who becomes “Bud” when in Pleasantville. At first he likes it, it IS the show he loved, but as time goes on, he realizes that the place is ‘pleasant’ because there is no confrontation or controversy, book pages are blank, there are no pictures of art; emotions and sexual urges are repressed and the basketball team Reese Witherspoonnever, ever loses. Tobey followed this movie up with The Cider House Rules (1999), Wonder Boys (2000) and, of course, Spider-Man (2002).

Reese Witherspoon first caught our eye as the tough little riding hood who turned the tables on the “big bad wolf” in that terrific movie Freeway from 1996. Reese is an intelligent actor who completely understands the characters she plays. In Pleasantville, she is the sexy sister Jennifer who becomes Mary Sue when sucked back. Unlike her brother who, at first, likes the black & white world they find themselves in, she immediately rebels against the smothering conformity. She seduces the basketball star and – boom – suddenly color starts to appear. A rose becomes red. Reese went on to Election (1999) and the funny, biting Legally Blonde of last year.

J.T. Walsh in BreakdownJ.T. Walsh was character actor on the cusp of great recognition. In this movie he plays Big Bob, the mayor of Pleasantville. A strict conservative trying to hold on to the status quo, this is the kind of role J.T. could have played in his sleep. A big man, he had created memorable roles in The Grifters (1990), A Few Good Men and Red Rock West (both in 1992) and The Last Seduction (1994). In Breakdown (1997) he was absolutely scary as a trucker who appears at first to be friendly and helpful but then becomes the coachman from hell. This was a breakout role for ol’ J.T. He received wide critical acclaim and after years of good performances but little notice, he was on his way. Alas, J.T. Walsh at age 55 died of a heart attack during the making of Pleasantville. The movie is dedicated to him.

Joan Allen & William H. MacyOther gifted actors in Pleasantville include Joan Allen as the black and white mother. Joan was Oscar nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2000 as the highly principled vice-presidential candidate in The Contender.

William H. Macy is another hard-working character actor with impressive credits stretching from Somewhere in Time (1980) to Jurassic Park III (2001) with unforgettable stops in Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), Fargo (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999) and State and Main (2000). In Pleasantville he is the “Honey, I’m home!” father in the 1950s household.

Jeff Daniels is “Mr. Johnson”, the soda-fountain owner who Bud introduces to modern art – and therefore turning more of Pleasantville from black and white to color. Don Knotts - who will forever be The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) to scores of Boomers – is the mysterious TV repairman whose fiddling with the back of the TV sends our two teens back to Pleasantville when they try to use the remote control.

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