Thursday, 3 June 2010

No Honey, I Don't Think I've Had Enough.

Sigh. Julianne Moore. AND Patricia Clarkson (who I also love, although less desperately and singlemindedly than JM.) In one film. Amazing.

I remember having to look at Todd Hayne's Far From Heaven back in uni, as an example of something something something with All That Heaven Allows. I can't remember what it was. It wasn't adaptation, it wasn't appropriation (I'm certain I did that in high school, not uni...) but I can't remember what it was. Which probably makes this entire reminiscing segue entirely pointless, but there you go. I remember the two films sharing similar visual tones and melodramatic performance styles, but in both cases it worked. I think that's where I was going to go there.

Cathy Whitaker (Moore) is the perfect 50s housewife and mother. She's happily married to Frank (Dennis Quaid), they are popular and loved by many friends, coworkers and associates, they're kind and giving within the constrictions placed on them by racial demands and the like of the 50s - meaning to say, they're as progressive as upper-middle-class people can be at the time without actually rocking the boat. But then along comes Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), the son of the Whitaker's late gardener, suddenly in her yard and all nice and sweet and polite and funny. And then, oop, there he is at an art opening, chatting about the merits of modern art, and how he believes abstract art is a continuation of religious art. 

Meanwhile, Frank is staying late at the office - this time of year brings many a proposal that needs to be prepared, reports that need to be written, random man that needs to be made out with. Oh dear. Frank is a dirty homo? No, put him in therapy that'll be fine. And Cathy can lean not on her best friend El (Clarkson), who wouldn't understand and who would set to gossiping around town about the state of the marriage which is otherwise fine, of course, this is just a phase, Cathy draws solace from Raymond. Their friendship has already set tongues wagging, and disapproval from El doesn't help matters. Sadly, Frank's treatment doesn't work (what a surprise!) and he skips out to live with his lover. Raymond is suffering as well - his young daughter is being abused for his relationship with Cathy, so he skips out of town also. Poor Cathy. From perfection to isolation in a couple of short screen hours.

Moore is amazing. This was one of two Oscar noms for her that year, the other being in support for The Hours. She lost this Oscar to our Nicole, her co-star in The Hours, and it's always a hard call. Between this and her showing in The Hours, I think they should have made up a whole new category for her. Here she is trying to be strong, but falling apart inside again and again, and you see it all with the slightest shimmer across her eyes, a momentary falter in her smile, a tiny shift in the feel of her voice. Clarkson as her best friend also does very well in a much smaller role, again judging her friend with merely a hardening of the jaw and quickening of the step. What truly mattered was completely left unsaid, it would appear.

Quaid does fine with his conflicted role as father, husband and lover. I've never thought him to be terrific in any role, and here he does his job just fine without proving to me any different. Haysbert, who I enjoyed as the President in television's 24, felt a little forced here, a little too 50s camp melodrama. His presence didn't slip as easily into the post-war world like the others did.

Haynes (who wrote and directed) did very well capturing the feeling of the films of Douglas Sirk. One can totally see the likes of Rock Hudson parading (or mincing? Oh, be nice) by. Those stars of the 50s could simply slot right into this film, with its stunning hues, incredible costumes (why oh why don't people dress like that anymore? It's incredible!) and soft, soft lighting. Credit also, of course, to cinematographer Edward Lachman, costume designer extraordinaire Sandy Powell, production designer Mark Friedberg and art director Peter Rogness for their stunning capturing of Haynes' vision.

Full cred. A great film. Not quite the masterpiece many people seem to think (there are a few too many little things that quibble with the notion of perfection), but a terrific production, more than worth a look-in. 4.5 stars.

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