Written by: Todd Haynes
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson
White-picket fence, two kids, financial success, and family values have been heralded as the way to live the ultimate American ideal. It promises to provide the ultimate lifestyle to promote happiness and wellbeing. However, not everything proves to be as perfect as it appears on the outside in most circumstances, which becomes an integral part in telling the melodramatically luscious Far From Heaven. A wonderful throwback story created with exquisite style.
In her suburban Connecticut neighborhood, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) appears to be the perfect wife living the best life. Her husband works as an executive for an advertising agency, has her two kids, and sits on top of all the town gossip. The appearances of perfection face a big crack when she discovers the indiscretions of her husband.
Made a decade apart but tremendously connected, the way Far From Heaven mirrors Todd Haynes’s masterpiece Carol boggles the mind as they tell similar stories but from different perspectives. They both deal with family units disrupted by one individual discovering their sexuality, but the two films diverge in what ultimately occurs with the relationships. Heck, they both open with wondrous scores highlighting the period in which they take place. Serving as a wonderful double feature, this film looks at this story through the spouse taking in all of the change along with the bevy of social issues surrounding it.
Being at the top of the social ladder provides benefits, but it puts Cathy in a fishbowl where all of her actions get looked at with plenty of scrutiny. It can easily be assumed, other jealous housewives have waited for the opportunity to pounce on her for any negligible reason, but she throws the best parties and seemingly has everything put together. With this being the 1950s, a white suburban neighborhood does not come close to the progressive standards of today, but even then, Cathy’s own form starkly sticks out. Getting into the politics of this era and how it looks through the eyes of the women at home allows Far From Heaven to carry weight with these social issues.
Known for being sympathetic towards Black folks, Cathy sits at the top of the social ladder while also being the most liberal. However, a distinct line gets thrown out there to show what dominated the political line of thinking at the time. When joshing around with her gossipy friends, Cathy kids about being careful McCarthy does not hear them, referencing Joe McCarthy’s tirade of accusing individuals of being communists. This demonstrates the fine line of what allyship looks like for Cathy in this era. She has her own moments of prejudice explicitly being displayed when initially interacting with Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert). Cathy considers herself an ally because she contributes to the NAACP, but the leg work coming with it rarely goes beyond signing a form. In today’s world, Cathy would make me roll my eyes, but in this era, she essentially stands out as a radical, which stays at bay throughout the story until the indiscretions of her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) become more apparent.
Choosing this idyllic situation in order to crush the idea of the American nuclear family leaves quite the impression. As the title indicates, this story sits far away from the perception of this being a celestial household, but plenty of pain exists between the individuals making it up. Through the other neighboring characters, we see what the world can observe with this household, which clashes from the behind-the-scenes look afforded to the audience and no one else. Even with it being Frank’s sexual identity essentially blowing up this ideal image of a family, we see it all through Cathy’s eyes and it gets delivered in such a touching and emotionally potent manner.
The technical elements of this feature are out of control with the swooning score by Elmer Bernstein and the wonderful use of color in the costume design by the ever-great Sandy Powell. It transports the audience back into this era for the greatness it displayed and horrifying racism and bigotry sitting right under the surface on the best days but blatantly out in the open on most. Managing to drive nostalgia for this era of simplicity while still condemning it for its harsher elements, all of the technical components fire on all cylinders here.
Not many can do a gay period piece about the deconstruction of the nuclear family like Todd Haynes and he succeeds in crafting the beauty and horror found in this suburban Connecticut neighborhood. Friendships only go so far as to what can be expected and the character of Cathy stands out as such a strong character capturing a way of thinking far ahead of her time but still lacking today. Boosted by a tremendous performance by Julianne Moore and the rest of the supporting cast, this film captures the true beauty of love.