Main cast: Julianne Moore (Cathy Whitaker), Dennis Quaid (Frank Whitaker), Dennis Haysbert (Raymond Deagan), and Patricia Clarkson (Eleanor Fine)
Director: Todd Haynes
It is 1957. Cathy Whitaker seems like the perfect Marcia Brady-like wife to successful salesman Frank. They have two lovely children, they live in a pleasant big house, and Cathy is admired by the ladies in her circle. Unfortunately, she discovers Frank in the embrace of another man one day. Far from Heaven chronicles the breakdown of the Whitakers’ marriage even as Cathy slowly develops a tentative friendship with an African American gardener, Raymond Deagan, that may or may not develop into something deeper. Even this friendship will be tested by the prejudices of the people in Hartford, Connecticut, where African Americans are still third-rate citizens at best.
Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid put on valiant performances and the cinematography is stunning. But the movie is laughable in just how clichéd it is. When Frank walks into a gay bar, everyone in there is a gorgeous hunk, because we all know that there is no such thing as a gay Average Joe taking time out for a drink after hours. Even Frank’s lover is a stereotypical young blond twink type. Raymond Deagan is a saintly African American that is not only literate and erudite but also culturally astute. He has this magical ability to pop up from behind bushes when Cathy is in tears, I’m sure the movie would have made him a Magical Angel Black Dude if they can get away with it.
Julianne Moore usually plays cold and repressed characters, but her Cathy is very sympathetic as she tries very hard to keep a marriage together, even as she doesn’t really understand why she is losing her family. But the movie also overplays Cathy’s emergence into enlightenment, making this movie come off like an apologia to African Americans everywhere instead. This isn’t a bad thing if this is director and writer Todd Haynes’s intention in the first place, which I doubt. The script does a few things right, especially by making Frank human instead of a one-dimensional caricature, but on the other hand, the movie delves too much into clichés and loses most of the impact of the movie on me as a result.
At the end of the day, I can’t help thinking that Ms Moore, Mr Quaid, and the other fine cast are wasted in this movie where the script can’t make up its mind whether to be a powerful drama or a Brady Bunch episode only with gay and African American people.