Review: “Far From Heaven”

One of the most beautiful looking and surprising films of the year, “Far from Heaven” gives us what would essentially be topics of a 90’s TV melodrama but sets it in an idyllic suburban neighbourhood from the 50’s and has its characters act and try to comprehend things in that charmingly optimistic but somewhat naive way that film characters of the era do.

Director Todd Haynes has humbly set out to painstakingly recreate both the look and feel of the 50’s films of Douglas Sirk such as “All That Heaven Allows” and “There’s Always Tomorrow” and has succeeded with flying colours. The deep rich colours of the clothes, the magnificent home palaces of parquetry and bannisters, the orange glow of autumn leaves on picture perfect backyards – the cinematography, production design, lighting and costume departments have all come together to create images as rich as oil paintings. From a purely visual standpoint, this is easily one of the most striking looking movies I’ve seen on the big screen in a LONG time and is helped by Elmer Bernstein’s era-specific and effective score.

The good news is there’s a lot more to it than that. ‘Heaven’ explores the issue of gay and interracial love in a society which won’t accept the notions let alone tolerate them. Even the most open minded cities of modern day society (NYC, San Fran, Sydney, London, LA, etc.) still have a long way to go in terms of completely accepting both those issues.

Their exploration though in this is fascinating as Haynes never breaks out into an odd or different direction – the material is treated completely seriously and yet done in that almost daydream style idyllic cleanliness we so associate with films and TV shows of that era. Nothing is overt – from Frank’s dalliance to the beautifully understated friendship between Cathy and Raymond, a lot of what would be considered the ‘darker’ elements take place off screen or are merely implied without vocalisation. On the one hand this suits the style of the subject matter, but regrettably it also weakens the emotional punch of the film.

None of this could be pulled off without strong performances and Julianne Moore gives her career best whilst Quaid, Haysbert and Clarkson are welcome support. All of them manage to pull off their roles with strength and total credibility whilst never wandering into the trap of overdoing it or becoming caricatures. As their lives all begin to unravel its very easy to feel for them and their simple desires in a society so rife with denial. At two hours its a long film and one whose pace does remain at a slow crawl throughout which rules out younger or impatient audiences. Nevertheless its refreshingly optimistic filmmaking which acts as both an homage and as something entirely distinctive in itself.