Far From Heaven
Irony is the gift that time and distance give us from the events of the past; as has been said, if we are to repeat the past we must do it as farce. Todd Haynes's film "Far From Heaven" has forgotten that the world is 45 years beyond the Hartford, Connecticut of 1957, where he has set his film, and it pays a terrible price for his refusal to acknowledge this fact.
"Far From Heaven" is the story of Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid), popular and successful suburban couple with two children and many friends. Only Frank is a closeted gay and Cathy begins what turns out to be a scandalous friendship with their black gardener. The couple are presented as though we have never seen nor lived through a) the sexual revolution and b) the civil rights movement, and so without irony or perspective we must spend an hour and three quarters painfully rehearsing events and acts that we have long since committed to memory. It is a bizarre act of hubris on Haynes's part, and it makes for a terrible movie.
Among many other problems, Haynes has written a script that gives his people lines no real human being would have said to another, in 1957 or any other year. They are the kind of lines we only hear in the movies - the kind that Douglas Sirk's characters spoke at the time. Why recreate the films of the past, and expect us to believe that they were real life? They were always just films, and we've already seen them.
And once again we have the sacrificial character of the noble black man - the gardener, Raymond Deagan (Denis Haysbert), whom the film saddles with a degree in business, plus the burden of being a widower with a lovely 11-year-old daughter. Please. How many times do we have to see "Imitation of Life"?
The other performances are dismal. Moore, a fine actress, is required here to submerge herself in the persona of a na´ve hostess and station-wagon mother, pretending that she's never heard of the real world. Quaid, who has done much better elsewhere, is very much two-notes - the corporate executive, the guilty husband. His role is all externals, all gestures, but no feeling, no understanding. Haynes would no doubt say that's exactly what he meant when he wrote it.
But the script, and the letter-perfect direction, and the letter-perfect production design, and the letter-perfect costumes, are not for one instant believable today. I'm aware that there are many critics who call this one of the best films of 2002. I am not one of them. It's as though Haynes set out deliberately to play a joke on us, from the meaningless title to the meaningless story. What a waste.