F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 1, 2010)

1 01 2010

The first “F.I.L.M.” of the new decade is Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven,” a well-crafted examination of 1950s outlooks on sexuality and race.  The movie draws a great deal of strength from two fine-tuned performances by Julianne Moore, recognized by the Academy Awards as one of 2002’s finest, and Dennis Quaid, criminally ignored.  But in my mind, the movie’s real strength is Haynes’ original screenplay, which makes melodrama bearable.

Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, who leads a seemingly perfect li(f)e.  She has a husband moving up in the corporate world, two beautiful children, an exquisite home, and a high standing in the social sphere of Hartford, Connecticut.  Yet this charmed existence is about to come crumbling down at an unprecedented rate.  She discovers her husband (Quaid) engaging in acts that, if discovered by the judgmental town, would be social suicide.  In order to vent some of her stress, Cathy often strikes up conversations with her African-American gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert).  But once again, the town looks upon any sort of kind interaction between the two races as shameful.  As disdain mounts against her, Cathy must decide what she values most: social approval or the satisfaction of following her heart.

Moore is a staggering force as she tries to maintain a facade of proper decorum while her life falls apart.  She plays the sweet, submissive wife with such grace that the contrast is incredibly stark when she loses control of her emotions.  However, this is no surprise from an actress who consistently delivers hard-hitting performances.  The real revelation is Dennis Quaid.  I have never particularly thought him a strong actor, but he shows more raw emotion here than all his other movies combined.  The friction of his desires is played with a gripping intensity that grabs your attention.  “Far From Heaven” is quite melancholy, but Moore, Quaid, and Haynes pull it off with such finesse that it is hard to feel depressed after they release you from their rapturous hold.

(Sorry about the trailer, but it’s the only one on YouTube! The music you are supposed to hear is Elmer Bernstein’s mesmerizing score, which earned him an Oscar nomination.)