Far From Heaven, but close to a masterpiece?

Preview by Jack Foley

DENNIS Quaid describes Far From Heaven as 'a twisted family drama told with sincerity', while critics in America are hailing it as 'close to perfect' and awarding it almost maximum ratings.

It seems that director Todd Haynes' first film since 1998's critical disaster, Velvet Goldmine, has got tongues wagging for all the right reasons. Far From Heaven opened in US cinemas on November 8, 2002, to almost universal acclaim.

It stars the aforementioned Mr Quaid as the head of a dysfunctional family in the 50s, who is struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality, while his wife (Julianne Moore) pursues a taboo relationship with her gardener (portrayed by 24's Dennis Haysbert).

Haynes, who also wrote the screenplay, describes it as a homage to the 'stylized melodramas' of director Douglas Sirk, and he wrote it with Moore in mind, adding that it uses the film-making style of the '50s to affect on an emotional level.

The film has already won awards at the Venice Film Festival, for Moore and for cinematographer, Edward Lachman, before drawing more acclaim as the centrepiece of the Toronto Film Festival. Rex Reed, of the New York Observer, described the film as the 'one true masterpiece' of that festival, while Hollywood Reporter has described it as 'a natual for both Golden Globe and Oscar consideration'.

But the movie seems to ooze class, from its cast and director, to the people behind the scenes. It was also produced by Jody Patton and Christine Vachon, as well as being executive produced by John Wells, Eric Robison, John Sloss and a certain Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney (whose previous collaborations have included the equally-acclaimed Insomnia).

It co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Viola Davis and features a score by composer Elmer Bernstein - and we're talking classic Bernstein composition here (just try visiting the movie's website for an example of what to expect).

According to Haynes, the inspiration for the film came as follows: "Creating a Fifties-era melodrama today and playing it straight, smack in the middle of this pumped-up, adrenalin-crazed era, might seem a perplexing impulse. Yet the strongest melodramas are those without apparent villains, where characters end up hurting each other unwittingly, just by pursing their desires.

"To impose upon the seeming innocence of the 1950s themes as mutually volatile as race and sexuality is to reveal how volatile those themes remain today - and how much our current climate of complacent stability has in common with that bygone era."

The movie opens in the UK next year but, in the meantime, here's what the US critics had to say...

The New York Times wrote that Far From Heaven 'rediscovers the aching, desiring humanity in a genre - and a period - too often subjected to easy parody or ironic appropriation', while TV Guide referred to it as 'a powerful and deeply moving example of melodramatic moviemaking'.

Reel.com referred to it as 'an unforgettable melodrama' and awarded it four out of four stars, while Reel Views thought it was 'easily one of the most stunning non-special effects intensive motion pictures of the year' and awarded it three and a half out of four.

A maximum four out of four rating was also delivered by the New York Post, which wrote that Far From Heaven was, 'perhaps the year's most daring and fully realized movie', while FilmCritic.com said that it was 'easy to overlook Heaven's faults to focus on its innumerable moments of pure genius'.

E! Online declared that it is 'close to perfect', before awarding it an A-, while LA Weekly referred to it as 'fiercely unredemptive'.

Even those that could find fault, found it sparingly, with Film Journal International describing it as 'a marvel of production design' and the Hollywood Reporter stating that it is 'a bold experiment, even though it falls short of being a success'.

The final word, however, goes to Entertainment Weekly, which raved. Its critic, Owen Gleiberman, wrote: ''Far From Heaven'' is a dazzling conceptual feat, but more than that, it's a work of enthralling drama -- a deconstruction of Hollywood soap opera that is also a full-fledged, utterly unironic masterpiece of the form....

"Who could have guessed that our cornball Hollywood past, newly reassembled with nearly all of its restrictions intact, would turn out to be a more expressive landscape than virtually anything in the let-it-all-hang-out, we-will-rock-you pop culture of today? Haynes hasn't just embraced old Hollywood. He has brought its soul back to life, showing us a path to what Hollywood could still be." (Click here to read the full review).

Needless to say, with praise so glowing, the magazine awarded the movie an A.

PAST FOREIGN LANGUAGE/INDIE PREVIEWS: Click here to find out why Aniston is The Good Girl...
Click here for a look at Igby Goes Down...
Sandler finds critical acclaim and Punch-Drunk Love. Click here...
Farrell tries to connect with a sniper. Click here for Phone Booth preview...
Click here for a preview of Tadpole....
Click here to find out why Soderbergh's Full Frontal has been exposed by the critics...
Click here to find out why Mel Gibson finds himself irresistibly drawn to The Passion...
Click here for The Magdalene Sisters preview and Vatican controversy...
Click here for Sweet Sixteen details, Ken Loach's latest...
Click here for 11'09"01 short film preview and controversy...
Click here for El crimen del Padre Amaro. Mexican controversy...
Williams develops a darker reputation. Click here for One Hour Photo...
The most frightening horror since The Shining? Click here for Frailty....
Irréversible, a life-affirming film about rape? Click here...
28 Days Later. Click here...
Talk To Her, the new Almodovar. Click here...
Lantana, one of the movies of the year? Click here...
Trouble Every Day, French vampire/cannibal flick. Click here...