Far From Heaven (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The plot is simple on the surface. A perfect 50s couple seem to have a perfect 50s life. He's a successful executive and she's the model housewife. Beneath the glittering surface, however, are secrets which prompt a concatenation of events that destroy the idyllic scene. The wife (Julianne Moore) comes to her husband's office late one night and finds him in a passionate embrace ...

 ... with another male Brooks Brothers executive.

While he tries to "treat" his homosexuality with therapy and counseling, the husband (Dennis Quaid) develops a drinking problem as well. In the meantime, the gentle-hearted wife starts to develop a very close friendship with an educated and refined black man who is doing some work for her. Needless to say, everything goes wrong.

That's about all there is to the plot. That seems simple, but the film is actually exceedingly complicated. You see, Far From Heaven is a film that asks you to make some the challenging mental adjustments which are necessary to approach it. It is the ultimate post-modernist 1950s homage. The characters dealing with homosexuality and miscegenation are not modern people, nor modern movie characters, nor 1950s people. They are 1950s movie characters. They encompass the full scope of the stilted 1950s images that were suitable for projection in the films and television shows of the 1950s. They live in houses which are designed perfectly. The women dress in high heels and pinafore skirts while they serve their families hearty, nourishing breakfasts. The people all speak with a studied indirectness as if characters in a play by Pinter or Beckett. The acting is not as natural as it would be in a movie made today, and is not the way people really talked in the 50s, but is a perfect replication of how people acted in 50s films.

When the characters experience the events of their daily lives, they are accompanied by 50s style theme music, ranging from the syrupy/sad strains of the weep-o-matic climax to the "Riley pulled another boner" music of the light moments, as reproduced by Elmer Bernstein, a man who actually scored many of those 50s melodramas. The characters'  lives are encapsulated by Kodak moments in a manner replicating the films of the period. There are plenty of anachronisms related to the time of year, some listed below, but we have to remember that this is not a film about Connecticut in the 50s. It is a film about 50s films about Connecticut in the 50s. In those days, the art directors would have Spring flowers blooming in Fall if it achieved the correct aesthetic balance, and this film followed the old formula perfectly. For a detailed discussion of the specific films which provide the spiritual roots of this homage, read the Salon article linked below. They did a thorough job, and they obviously know much more about these films that I do.

Some of the inappropriate items used to produce the artistic look of the film:

  • Although the film starts in Autumn (fallen and russet leaves are everywhere), this particular Autumn includes newly blooming apple blossoms.
  • The Connecticut February is filled with beautiful flowers in full bloom outdoors, and March is filled with flowering trees. It sure looked impressive, however, to see the snow falling in the midst of all the colorful blooms.
  • As they walk through the beautiful Fall foliage, the black man hands Julianne Moore some witch hazel in bloom. (Witch hazel flowers in Spring.)

The film is just about awash in production design and art design, from Moore's perfect home to Quaid's art deco office. Everything is a marvel in gray-green and russet hues. I guess Julianne Moore must be a "Fall".  I can't really comment on the season theory of colors, because I went to have my colors analyzed once, and it turns out I don't have a full season, only Ground Hog Day, so my whole color palette is "brown and furry" mixed with "grey and dreary". This sense of style makes me sort of conspicuous when I visit Paris or Milan to see the Spring line, but helps me blend in perfectly in Gary, Indiana in February.


None. Not even close. It is truly a 50s-style film.
I found myself impressed by the period feel of the film, the set design, and the cinematography, but I could never get into the lives of the characters. The first half of the film was more interesting to me, because it functions simultaneously as a 50s melodrama and as a parody of 50s melodrama. The old style of acting and the hilarious background music had me in stitches. The filmmakers don't try to be funny. They just show us that the actual attitudes of 50s movies simply seem funny by their very quaintness, and the liberal attitudes of the progressives in the film seem like they are slightly to the right of the KKK when perceived by our newly-tuned ears. The husband is determined to "beat this thing" and get back on the heterosexual path again, as if he simply had to quit smoking. The wife's well-meaning words to the black man she cares about seem painfully condescending to us, and his apparent lack of offense seems even more embarrassing. (At least Sydney Poitier would have told her with his eyes that she was talking to him as if he were a child, and she would have understood.)

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterboxed 1.85:1.

  • "making of" documentary

  • anatomy of a scene

  • commentary by the director and star Julianne Moore

In the second half of the movie, however, all the irony disappears and the film simply becomes a beautiful, cinematic tribute to those 50s weepfests. Frankly, that is a type of filmmaking that I do not miss, so I didn't enjoy this very much, but if you like those multi-hankie films about the racial and sexual hypocrisy of society, as portrayed sincerely but clumsily in the Hollywood of the 50s, go for it.


I have to say that one thing sure surprised me about the ending. The wife ended up a social pariah, completely ostracized because of her very pure friendship with the black man. The husband, on the other hand, seemed ready to resume his former successful life as a top executive with his hot young toy-boy. Yeah, that could happen in the 50s.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: four stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5, Entertainment Weekly A.

  • General UK consensus: three and a half stars. It would have been four except for a low score from BBC. BBC 3/5, Daily Mail 8/10, Daily Telegraph 9/10, Independent 8/10, The Guardian 10/10, The Times 8/10, The Sun 9/10, The Express 10/10, The Mirror 10/10

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.9/10, Yahoo voters 3.9/5
  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $13.5 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $5 million. It grossed $15 million. It never reached the Top 10 at any time, and never expanded beyond 284 theaters, yet it is still playing on 80 screens today, although the DVD is out. Obviously, it reached a small but highly enthusiastic following.
  • The film was nominated for four Golden Globes, and four Oscars.


Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in style and information: Salon Magazine did a superb job of tracing the source material for Todd Haynes's vision, as well as the developments in Haynes's career that led him to this point.

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. It is brilliant in a way, but is not a film made for general audiences. It is a film made for film buffs.

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