on October 23, 1998 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   In this winsome and witty comedy/ drama, siblings David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), products of a broken home, are mysteriously transported by a strange TV repairman (Don Knotts) into a 1950s black-and-white sitcom called "Pleasantville." Evoking a "Leave It to Beaver" sensibility, Pleasantville is a simple and innocent society where everything goes right. David, an obsessive fan of the series, is initially thrilled to be there, but rebellious Jennifer soon upsets the natural balance of things. Pleasantville starts to become colorized, and its citizens discover the joys of Miles Davis music, risque books and avant-garde art.
   An inverse of "The Truman Show," with a dollop of "Back to the Future" thrown in, "Pleasantville" betters both of them with its unshakable internal logic and clever plot twists. Writer Gary Ross ("Big"), making his directorial debut, has fun with the mores and sitcom conventions he's spoofing. The town is a TV facsimile of the '50s, which means it's a world with no knowledge of sex, toilets or colors--but his jokes cut deep, eventually assailing the fascistic, racist undercurrents that would govern a "black-and-white" town like Pleasantville.
   As David and Jennifer's Ozzie and Harriet-like parents, William H. Macy and Joan Allen are impeccable, nailing their characters' obliviousness without dehumanizing them in the slightest. Also great are Jeff Daniels as the thoughtful owner of the local malt shop and the late J.T. Walsh, in his last role, as the suspicious head of Pleasantville's Chamber of Commerce.
   "Pleasantville" cleverly satirizes those who preach the virtues of rigid family values and conformity, but avoids controversy by wrapping its message up in a delightful and brilliant special effects-laden package. Starring Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen and J.T. Walsh. Directed and written by Gary Ross. Produced by Gary Ross, Jon Kilik, Robert J. Degus and Steven Soderbergh. A New Line release. Comedy/drama. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements emphasizing sexuality, and for language. Running time: 124 min
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