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Sometimes a movie comes along that perfectly captures the zeitgeist—that practically cans it and pickles it—and you know you are looking at something with legs. Such is Gary Ross's Pleasantville. The movie's appealing premise is that two kids from the rad nineties—brother and sister—are magically projected into the black-and-white world of a fifties sitcom called "Pleasantville," where they are cast as Bud and Mary Sue.
The sitcom is in the classic Leave It to Beaver/Father Knows Best vein. Everything is Eisenhower peachy: Pop has some vague job that requires a suit and a briefcase, but is close enough for midday pop-ins; Mom smiles and bakes 24 seven, and if Junior ever forgot to wax the Ford or Princess dated a guy without a cardigan, the sky would crack and fall to earth.
Now, some of us still like Ike and his prehallucinogenic era. But this film will have none of that. My goodness, it seems to be saying, haven't you seen Blue Velvet? Didn't you know that most of those handsome hat-wearing men were closeted gays or wife-beaters—or women, waiting for Christine Jorgensen to blaze a transgendered trail? There, there. Pleasantville is here to remind us. And remind us.
All of which is a terrific pity. No sooner are you thinking how fun this is going to be, wondering what retro delights the director has in store, than he begins to fulminate and cluck like a tie-dyed schoolmarm. "Now, now," he tsks, "This was a bad, repressive society! Women had to wear dresses and cook dinner—simultaneously! Nobody even knew who Mick Jagger was!" You can practically smell the codliver oil approaching.
To remedy this backward state, Ross arranges for the cynical, sexually active Mary Sue to seduce Skip, the innocent captain of the Pleasantville basketball team. Unlike her brother, Mary Sue never liked this dull sitcom in the first place, and while she's trapped here she's going to have a little fun rocking the boat. She knows that introducing sex to this ...