Being a film grad, and a wannabe filmmaker, I read a lot of filmmaking books. One of my favorite practical manuals in the field of screenwriting is a book called The Screenwriter’s Workbook, by Syd Field. In it, he basically breaks down every successful script into a paradigm, which I will paraphrase here (assuming an average two-hour film): the first 30 minutes are Act I, the Set-Up, which leads into Plot Point I, which alters the equilibrium of the story and can essentially be called a “game-changer”. From there, 60 minutes of Conflict, where obstacles are thrown at the protagonist for him or her to overcome, which culminates in Plot Point II, another game-changer. Then, the last 30 minutes are called the Resolution, where storylines are wrapped up and a satisfying climax is reached. Of all the films I have ever watched, I don’t think any film more essentially exemplifies this paradigm than Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid. Of Todd Haynes’ work, I’ve previously seen Safe, and I enjoyed it a great deal, so I didn’t have too much hesitation going into this one. Once again, I needn’t have worried; this had so much going for it, I was actually surprised how far it managed to be off my radar until now.
Pretty much from the opening minute, you can immediately tell the Douglas Sirk influence. The score is unbelievably showy and flowery, dripping with melodramatic love and care; even the title card looks like it comes right out of a 1950s soap film. The script is ripped right from that same decade, and part of the reason it sounds so cheesy in a modern setting is because of how authentically classic it is; it doesn’t go for parody, but rather a respectable mimicry. As for the plot, it starts off even enough, establishing Moore’s character as the perfect Stepford wife, with a simple marriage, two kids, and a life so darling she is even interviewed for a weekly gazette. Then, about 20 minutes in, Plot Point I hits, and it hits hard; I actually exclaimed aloud “Wow” when it occurred. You will know it when you see it; it is the very definition of a “game-changer”. From there, the film is an exploration of Moore’s character as she handles the shattered remains of what used to be her idyllic life, as well as her burgeoning relationship with the one outlet that seems to give her respite from the newborn chaos. I didn’t think too much of the plot when I first started the film, but just like Safe, this grew on me too much for me to even try and write it off.
I liked a particular quote from a review I read for this film, that opens the curtain on all the characters involved as being “trapped inside this beautiful hell of a world that may look nice, but denies happiness and ease to all involved.” I try not to use outside quotes in my own reviews unless they already perfectly exemplify my feelings about a film, and this one was just too perfect about the film in question to ignore. This is such a heart-rending film, in many different ways, and I could spend several more paragraphs detailing how this film affected me so much more than I expected it to, but once again, I’ll simply leave it to you instead to watch this film for yourself, and experience it all on your own terms. This is a surprisingly emotional film, and it’s just accessible enough that I feel I can recommend it to a pretty wide audience. You won’t expect it to have the impact that it’ll have on you, and in this particular case, that is a very good thing.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10