Far From Heaven

To all external appearances, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) has it all — her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is successful at his job, she has two lovely kids, and her picture is in the paper for being the perfect housewife. But under the surface, dark truths are revealed: Cathy and Frank don't have a happy sex life, Frank drinks too much, and he's a homosexual who's finally beginning to act on his impulses. It's something folks have a hard time accepting in 1957 Connecticut, and the same can be said for Cathy's friendship and attraction to her black gardener, single father Raymond Deagen (Dennis Haysbert). Dripping with melodrama, Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven (2002) was conceived as an homage to the world and works of master melodramatist Douglas Sirk (one almost wonders if Haynes was influenced by the Criterion releases of Sirk's All that Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind). But instead of being a dilettante's stab at mimicry, Haynes instead invests in Sirk's world and recreates it near-perfectly, using Sirk's style as a form for his expression. Formalism seems something Haynes is drawn to, as his early efforts (including the unreleased Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which uses Barbie dolls to tell a mock documentary of Karen's life, and the section "Horror" in Poison , which plays like a '50s sci-fi) often use the template of existing genres to draw from. But here Haynes holds to Sirk's world without any irony, and without dismissing any character as a shallow stereotype (complaints one can lodge against other "disrupted nuclear family" films, in particular American Beauty). Homosexuality and inter-racial dating were taboos then (and now, in some places); Haynes explores social prejudice through this lens without trying to enforce modern social codes upon the period, while understanding that Sirk wanted the audience to both empathize and absorb his main characters' drama more than anything. Moore (a Haynes regular) is perfect at conveying Cathy's dilemma and nails that Lana Turner style, but it is the two Dennises that make the film. Quaid is a revelation as the distraught repressed homosexual; it's a turn one wouldn't expect from an actor who's been playing aggressively heterosexual characters over the years. Meanwhile, Dennis Haysbert acts as the films emotional center. This would be nothing without the delicate recreation of the '50s bolstered by Ed Lachman's cinematography, Sandy Powell's costume design, Mark Friedberg's production design, and Elmer Bernstein's period music. And Haynes holds it all together without allow the film to devolve into an exercise — an accomplishment in itself. Focus Feature's DVD (released through Universal) presents Far From Heaven in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mixes. Supplements include a well-researched yack-track from Haynes, IFC's "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette for the film (30 min.), a standard "making-of," an interview with Moore and Haynes, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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