Far From Heaven is a visual and stylistic masterpiece.
Unfortunately, thatís all it is. It falls just shy of becoming
the heart-wrenching drama it so desperately wants to be.
Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, a 1957 Connecticut housewife
so perfect sheíd give June Cleaver a run for her money. Cathy
and her successful husband, Frank (Quaid), have what
seems to be the ideal life: a beautiful home, two adorable
children, and the envy of all their neighbors. However, when
Cathy visits her husband at work and catches him kissing another
man, the walls of her perfect life come crashing down on her,
brick by brick. As Cathyís marriage deteriorates, she finds
solace in her friendship with Raymond Deagan (Haysbert),
her African-American gardener. This socially unacceptable
relationship spurs malicious gossip and further complicates
Far From Heaven is visually stunning, thanks to the
artful direction of Haynes, who succeeds in his goal
to pay homage to the classic í50s melodramas of Douglas
Sirk (Imitation of Life, All That Heaven Allows).
Haynesís attention to detail is astounding. Everything from
color to wardrobe to music is perfect from one frame to the
next. The performances are equally wonderful. Moore is amazing
as usual, and Quaid plays Frank flawlessly, displaying a surprising
amount of range and emotion. Clarkson is also refreshing
as Cathyís busybody friend, Eleanor.
The filmís only shortcomings lie in the story itself. Haynes
tries to tackle two extremely complex subjects, homosexuality
and interracial relationships, which become even more complicated
when set against the backdrop of 1950s suburban America. Instead
of focusing on one subject and exploring it fully, Haynes
just barely scratches the surface of both issues. He puts
Frankís story on the backburner in favor of pursuing the less
compelling story of Cathy and Raymond. We only get glimpses
of Frankís personal torture over his homosexuality and the
repercussions it has on his family, which is unfortunate because
those are some of the best scenes in the film. Furthermore,
Moore and Haysbert donít even share enough screen time to
make us believe that their friendship is all that deep. Deep
enough, at least, for Cathy, a woman so concerned with appearances,
to risk the public scrutiny and ridicule that would come from
pursuing the relationship.
The weak development of each storyline makes it difficult
to attain the level of emotional involvement that Haynes undoubtedly
intended. In the end, Far From Heaven is entertaining
and fun to look at, and the solid performances, alone, make
it worthwhile.† Just donít go into it expecting too much,
because youíll probably walk away disappointed.