2002, Director Todd Haynes

Wonderful film exploring modern perceptions of 1950's American life under the assumption that all was not hunky dory in the Leave it to Beaver universe. Haynes brings to light homosexuality and racism, two topics likely not covered in the Eisenhower canon of social commentary. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) plays a seemingly naive upper class Connecticut woman, engrossed in tea socials, civic associations, and her nosy, superficial homemaker friends. All is well until her husband Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) begins to break under the strain of mysterious clues leading to a double life. In showing a married man struggling with homosexuality Haynes effectively captures a person in a Faustian bargain, bound to convention and his family on one hand but also governed by desire and emotional hell. I can imagine the conflict Frank is going through to an extent (without the affairs and risky sexual behavior). It's hard to "keep up appearances" while slipping away from mental well being.

Into the scene comes Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), the son of the deceased family gardener, college educated but unable to advance due to being African-American. Raising his daughter Sarah (Jordan Puryear) alone as a widower he is the match for a lonely woman falling fast into a pit of deceit. Racism rivals homophobia as a potent destructive force in the film. Frank's inability to love his wife is mirrored by the blossoming love between Cathy and Raymond. The film develops through turns to weave both topics into a slower paced but intellectually complex combination.

This is not a movie for Bruce Willis fans or those addicted to the latest in computer cinematography. In fact, the film is designed to ape 1950s sets, techniques, and characterization. What the viewer will find is great cast development, tackling of very hard issues in a forceful but concise way, and a heart wrenching romance that shows how even in the shittiest of circumstances people can love one another in a very profound way.

This is one of those tear apart the sofa for change films.

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