Pleasantville (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The theatrical release poster shows people in black and white color looking at a color poster that is placed at the wall. The poster shows a teenage boy standing next to a teenage girl holding an umbrella behind a colorful scene of a town. The tagline reads "Nothing is as simple as Black and White".
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGary Ross
Written byGary Ross
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Lindley
Edited byWilliam Goldenberg
Music byRandy Newman
Larger Than Life Productions
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • October 23, 1998 (1998-10-23)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million[1]
Box office$49.8 million

Pleasantville is a 1998 American teen fantasy comedy-drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Gary Ross. It stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, and Reese Witherspoon, with Don Knotts, Paul Walker, Marley Shelton, and Jane Kaczmarek in supporting roles. The story centers on two siblings who wind up trapped in a 1950s TV show, set in a small Midwest town, where residents are seemingly perfect.

The film was one of J. T. Walsh's final performances and was dedicated to his memory. It was also the final on-screen film appearance of Don Knotts, who would subsequently take on voice acting roles until his death.


While their mother is away, high school-aged twin siblings David and Jennifer fight over the television, breaking the remote control. A TV repairman arrives and, impressed by David's knowledge and love of Pleasantville, a black-and-white 1950s sitcom about the idyllic Parker family, gives him an unusual remote control before departing. When they use it, David and Jennifer are transported into the Parkers' house, in Pleasantville's black-and-white world. George and Betty Parker believe them to be their children, Bud and Mary Sue. Communicating through the Parkers' television, David tries to reason with the repairman, who is offended that they want to come home, thinking they should be lucky to live in Pleasantville.

There, fire does not exist, and firefighters merely rescue cats from trees, and everyone is unaware that anything exists outside of Pleasantville, as all roads circle back into it. David tells Jennifer they must play the show's characters and not disrupt Pleasantville, but she rebelliously goes on a date with Mary Sue's boyfriend, Skip Martin, the most popular boy in school. She has sex with Skip, who is shocked by the experience, which leads to the first bursts of color appearing in town.

Bill Johnson, owner of the malt shop where Bud works, experiences an existential crisis after realizing the repetitive nature of his life. David tries to help him break out of his routine and notices an attraction between Bill and Betty.

As Jennifer influences other teenagers, parts of Pleasantville become colorized, including some of the residents. Books in the library, previously blank, begin to fill with words after David and Jennifer summarize the plot to their classmates. When Jennifer gives a curious Betty an explanation about sex and tells her how to masturbate, Betty has an orgasm that results in her colorization and a fire in a tree outside.

Other foreign concepts, such as rain, begin to appear. David shows Bill a book of modern art, which inspires him to begin painting and to pursue a romance with Betty. Jennifer loses interest in sex and partying and becomes colorized after finding passion in literature. David pursues a romance with Margaret but is confused and disappointed to find he is still black and white.

Betty leaves George to be with Bill, bewildering him. The town leaders, including the mayor, Big Bob, and others who remain black and white are suspicious of all of these changes and begin to discriminate against the "colored" people, considering them a threat to Pleasantville's values.

A riot is ignited by Bill's nude painting of Betty on the window of his malt shop. The shop is destroyed, books are burned and colored people are harassed in the street. David defends Betty from a gang of teenage boys. Punching one of them, David scares the rest away, demonstrating newfound courage that turns him colored.

The town council bans colored citizens from public venues, closes Lover's Lane, outlaws reading, rock music and using colorful paint. In protest, David and Bill paint a colorful mural outside the soda fountain depicting the beauty of love, sex, rain, music and literature. They are arrested and brought to trial in front of the entire town. David confronts George about losing Betty, persuading him to admit he does not just miss the cooking and the cleaning. George becomes colorized and the rest of the town, except for Big Bob, become colorized as well. When David drives him to fury over the suggestion that one day there could be a world where women go off to work and men stay home and cook, Big Bob becomes colored and flees in shame.

The town celebrates their victory, and color televisions start being sold. They broadcast new programs and footage of other countries. The town's roads also start leading to other cities. With Pleasantville changed, Jennifer chooses to continue her new life in the TV world. Bidding farewell to her, Margaret and Betty, David uses the remote control to return to the real world, where only an hour has passed since his disappearance. He comforts his mother, who had left to meet a man only to get cold feet, and assures her that nothing has to be perfect. In Pleasantville, citizens enjoy their lives, and Jennifer attends college.



This was the first time that a new feature film was created by scanning and digitizing recorded film footage for the purpose of removing or manipulating colors. The black-and-white-meets-color world portrayed in the movie was filmed entirely in color; in all, approximately 163,000 frames of 35 mm footage were scanned, in order to selectively desaturate and adjust contrast digitally. The scanning was done in Los Angeles by Cinesite, utilizing a Spirit DataCine for scanning at 2K resolution[2] and a MegaDef Colour Correction System from Pandora International. Principal photography took place from March 1 to July 2, 1997.

The death of camera operator Brent Hershman, who fell asleep driving home after a 19-hour workday on the set of the film, resulted in a wrongful death suit, claiming that New Line Cinema, New Line Productions and Juno Pix Inc. were responsible for the death as a result of the lengthy work hours imposed on the set.[3][4] In response to Hershman's death, crew members launched a petition for 'Brent’s Rule', which would limit workdays to a maximum of 14 hours; the petition was ultimately unsuccessful.[5][6]

The film is dedicated to Hershman, as well as to director Ross's mother, Gail, and actor J. T. Walsh, who also died before the film's release.[7]

Shortly before and during the film's release, an online contest was held to visit the real Pleasantville, Iowa.[8] Over 30,000 people entered. The winner, who remained anonymous, declined the trip and opted to receive the $10,000 cash prize instead.


Director Gary Ross stated, "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression...That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop."[9]

Robert Beuka says in his book SuburbiaNation, "Pleasantville is a morality tale concerning the values of contemporary suburban America by holding that social landscape up against both the Utopian and the dystopian visions of suburbia that emerged in the 1950s."[10]

Robert McDaniel of Film & History described the town as the perfect place, "It never rains, the highs and lows rest at 72 degrees, the fire department exists only to rescue treed cats, and the basketball team never misses the hoop." However, McDaniel says, "Pleasantville is a false hope. David's journey tells him only that there is no 'right' life, no model for how things are 'supposed to be'."[11]

Warren Epstein of The Gazette wrote, "This use of color as a metaphor in black-and-white films certainly has a rich tradition, from the over-the-rainbow land in The Wizard of Oz to the girl in the red dress who made the Holocaust real for Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. In Pleasantville, color represents the transformation from repression to enlightenment. People—and their surroundings—change from black-and-white to color when they connect with the essence of who they really are."[12]


Box office[edit]

Pleasantville earned $8.9 million during its opening weekend. It would ultimately earn a total of $40.8 million against a $60 million budget making it a box office flop, despite the critical success.[13]

Critical reception[edit]

Pleasantville received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an 86% rating from 97 reviews, an average rating of 7.7/10, with the critical consensus: "Filled with lighthearted humor, timely social commentary, and dazzling visuals, Pleasantville is an artful blend of subversive satire and well-executed Hollywood formula."[14] Metacritic assigned a score of 71 based on 32 reviews.[15]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four, calling it "one of the best and most original films of the year".[16] Janet Maslin wrote that its "ingenious fantasy" has "seriously belabored its once-gentle metaphor and light comic spirit".[17] Peter M. Nichols, judging the film for its child-viewing worthiness, jokingly wrote in The New York Times that the town of Pleasantville "makes Father Knows Best look like Dallas".[18] Joe Leydon of Variety called it "a provocative, complex and surprisingly anti-nostalgic parable wrapped in the beguiling guise of a commercial high-concept comedy". He commented that some storytelling problems emerge late in the film, but wrote that "Ross is to be commended for refusing to take the easy way out".[19]

Entertainment Weekly wrote a mixed review: "Pleasantville is ultramodern and beautiful. But technical elegance and fine performances mask the shallowness of a story as simpleminded as the '50s TV to which it condescends; certainly it's got none of the depth, poignance, and brilliance of The Truman Show, the recent TV-is-stifling drama that immediately comes to mind."[20] Dave Rettig of Christian Answers said: "On a surface level, the message of the film appears to be 'morality is black and white and pleasant, but sin is color and better,' because often through the film the Pleasantvillians become color after sin (adultery, premarital sex, physical assault, etc...). In one scene in particular, a young woman shows a brightly colored apple to young (and not yet colored) David, encouraging him to take and eat it. Very reminiscent of the Genesis's account of the fall of man."[21]

Time Out New York reviewer Andrew Johnston observed, "Pleasantville doesn't have the consistent internal logic that great fantasies require, and Ross just can't resist spelling everything out for the dim bulbs in the audience. That's a real drag, because the film's fundamental premise—crossing America's nostalgia fixation with Pirandello and the Oz/Narnia/Wonderland archetype—is so damn cool, the film really should have been a masterpiece."[22]

Jesse Walker, writing a retrospective in the January 2010 issue of Reason, argued that the film was misunderstood as a tale of kids from the 1990s bringing life into the conformist world of the 1950s. Walker points out that the supposedly outside influences changing the town of Pleasantville—the civil rights movement, J. D. Salinger, modern art, premarital sex, cool jazz and rockabilly—were all present in the 1950s. Pleasantville "contrasts the faux '50s of our TV-fueled nostalgia with the social ferment that was actually taking place while those sanitized shows first aired".[23]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards[24] Best Art Direction Jeannine Oppewall and Jay Hart Nominated
Best Costume Design Judianna Makovsky Nominated
Best Original Dramatic Score Randy Newman Nominated
American Comedy Awards[25] Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture William H. Macy Nominated
Art Directors Guild Awards[26] Excellence in Production Design for a Feature Film Jeannine Oppewall Nominated
Artios Awards[27] Best Casting for Feature Film – Drama Ellen Lewis and Debra Zane Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Joan Allen Nominated
Best Art Direction Jeannine Oppewall and Jay Hart Nominated
Best Cinematography John Lindley Nominated
Best Costume Design Judianna Makovsky Nominated
Best Original Score Randy Newman Nominated
Best Visual Effects Nominated
Best Cast Ensemble Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[28] Best Supporting Actor William H. Macy (also for A Civil Action and Psycho) Won[a]
Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Won
Best Cinematography John Lindley Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[29] Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards[30] Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Best Cinematography John Lindley Nominated
Costume Designers Guild Awards[31] Excellence in Costume Design for Film Judianna Makovsky Won
Critics' Choice Movie Awards[32] Best Picture Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Won[b]
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Won
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation Gary Ross Nominated
International Film Music Critics Association Awards[33] Best Original Score for a Drama Film Randy Newman Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[34] Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Won
Best Production Design Jeannine Oppewall Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[35] Best Comedy/Musical Picture Jon Kilik, Gary Ross and Steven Soderbergh Nominated
Best Comedy/Musical Actress Joan Allen Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Best First Feature Gary Ross Nominated
Best Cinematography John Lindley Nominated
Best Comedy/Musical Score Randy Newman Nominated
Best Adapted Song "Across the Universe"
Music and Lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Performed by Fiona Apple
Best Makeup Nominated
Best Visual Effects Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards[36] Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Won
Best Cinematography John Lindley Nominated
Best Editing William Goldenberg Nominated
Best Original Score Randy Newman Won
Producers Guild of America Awards[37] Most Promising Producer in Theatrical Motion Pictures Gary Ross Won
Satellite Awards[38] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Jeff Daniels Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Joan Allen Won
Best Director Gary Ross Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Art Direction Jeannine Oppewall and Jay Hart Nominated
Best Cinematography John Lindley Nominated
Best Costume Design Judianna Makovsky Nominated
Best Editing William Goldenberg Nominated
Best Original Score Randy Newman Nominated
Saturn Awards[39] Best Fantasy Film Won
Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Won
Best Performance by a Younger Actor/Actress Tobey Maguire Won
Best Writing Gary Ross Nominated
Best Costumes Judianna Makovsky Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[40] Best Picture 7th Place
Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Won
Teen Choice Awards[41] Choice Movie – Drama Nominated
Most Funniest Scene Reese Witherspoon and Joan Allen Nominated
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 13th Place
Young Hollywood Awards[42] Female Breakthrough Performance Reese Witherspoon Won


Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedOctober 13, 1998
LabelNew Line

The soundtrack features music from the 1950s and 1960s such as "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent, "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, "So What" by Miles Davis and "At Last" by Etta James. The main score was composed by Randy Newman; he received an Oscar nomination in the original music category. A score release is also in distribution, although the suite track is only available on the standard soundtrack. Among the Pleasantville DVD "Special Features" is a music-only feature with commentary by Randy Newman.

The music video for Fiona Apple's version of "Across the Universe", directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, uses the set of the diner from the film. AllMusic rated the album two-and-a-half stars out of five.[43]



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  3. ^ Polone, Gavin (May 23, 2012). "Polone: The Unglamorous, Punishing Hours of Working on a Hollywood Set". Vulture. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  4. ^ O'Neill, Ann W. (December 21, 1997). "Death After Long Workday Spurs Suit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
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  40. ^ "1998 SEFA Awards". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
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  42. ^ Sim, David (March 22, 2019). "Reese Witherspoon's Birthday: Her Best Movies". Newsweek. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  43. ^ Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture at AllMusic

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]