Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Pleasantville

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, June 19, 1999

I think that you should try not to think about that any more.

Special features

Art Of5
Commentary Track7
Isolated Score5
Music Video4
Trailer5

Brother and sister fight over a remote control given them by Don Knotts and end up in a fifties black and white television show. Moral: never accept gifts from Barney Fife.

RecommendationRent Soon!
DirectorGary Ross
WriterGary Ross
Movie Rating5
Transfer Quality9
Overall Rating8
Formats
  • Enhanced Widescreen

Don Knotts was, well, Don Knotts. He put in a great performance as the old TV repairman. Jeff Daniels was brilliant as the repressed artist who owns the soda shop. Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire put in fine performances as the two kids stuck in the television set. Joan Allen and William H. Macy were perfect as the fifties tv parents. (Dazed and Confused fans will catch a glimpse of Marissa Ribisi towards the beginning. She seems to have been in a lot of movies since Dazed that I have never even heard of.)

David (Tobey Maguire) is a huge fan of the fifties television show “Pleasantville”. There is a Pleasantville marathon coming up, and a trivia contest along with it. The prize is $1,000. David knows everything about Pleasantville. A friend of his quizzes him on various trivial aspects of the show. Why did Mary Sue take her father to the dance? (Nothing to do with incest, not in Pleasantville. No one has sex in Pleasantville, not even parents.) Who did she dress him up as? (Prince Charming).

Then he asks David a trivia question about the homeless in Pleasantville. “It’s a silly question, because nobody’s homeless in Pleasantville.”

Later, Don Knotts gives David a similar quizzing. He “passes the test” and unknowingly gets the prize of being stuck in Pleasantville. Don Knotts puts in a prize performance as the magical TV repairman.

Once inside Pleasantville, they immediately start screwing with the Pleasantville universe. David unwittingly (at first) and Jennifer very much on purpose. She teaches the captain of the basketball team how to have sex. Soon everyone is doing it! And when they have sex they leave black and white, become “colored”, and listen to Brubeck and Buddy Holly at the soda shop.

“Why sex?” asked Gary Ross to us on the director’s commentary: because “if you’re closed off to something that primal, I don’t think you can be open to anything else.” But of course it wasn’t just sex, that was just one of the first and fastest ways of “breaking out of the mold”. It wasn’t even the part that got the most “converts” to “colored”. That honor belongs to the local library. Jennifer, who has sex all the time, doesn’t leave black and white until something else triggers it.

This doesn’t change that there is sex everywhere and modern art which includes nudity and cubist Santas. Gary Ross called the movie “an assault on fifties conservative sensibilities”. Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels), the soda shop owner, is a repressed artist, and as the film progresses he paints some fabulous pieces. Ross hired some fantastic artists to create his work, including Los Angeles muralist Frank Romero to do the final mural that “Bud” and Bill paint on the side of the town jail.

The movie is full of references to other movies, one of the more obvious being Citizen Kane, and Patton is in there also. Gary Ross claims to be a big fan of François Truffaut, and the scene with the firemen sweeping away the burnt books struck me as similar to Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451”. (But the director’s commentory didn’t mention that.)

There are a lot of extras on this DVD. Besides the director’s commentary there is also a composer’s commentary with composer Randy Newman and an isolated track of his musical score. There is a featurette on the art of pleasantville, mostly with Frank Romero, one of the artistic stand-ins for Bill Johnson.

There is a Fiona Apple video as well, her doing a cover of the Beatle’s “Across the Universe”. It’s a great song, and she has a good voice, but the video itself was poorly put together. It appears to have been shot in three parts, digitally put together later: Fiona, the coffee shop, and the people smashing the coffee shop. The video is designed specifically for those who know the movie; it would make no sense to someone who hasn’t seen it. Fiona’s somewhat-out-of-kilter body is disturbing, mostly when she smiles as things get smashed around her.

Finally, if you have a DVD-ROM drive on your computer, you get even more extras! The full script to the movie with links to that point in the film! If you’re a fan of this movie, you will definitely want to buy this DVD. If you haven’t seen the movie, I strongly recommend renting it ASAP.

Recommendation: Rent Soon!

DirectorGary Ross
WriterGary Ross
ActorsTobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy, Don Knotts, J.T. Walsh
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitleEnglish
Special FeaturesArt Of, Commentary Track, Isolated Score, Music Video, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Pleasantville…

If you enjoy Jeff Daniels, you might also be interested in Something Wild.

If you enjoy William H. Macy, you might also be interested in Boogie Nights.