11/02/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon
, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy
A few months ago there was much discussion about the meaning of The Truman Show, the Jim Carrey fantasy about a man who has lived his entire life in a hit television series. Now arrives Pleasantville, playing off the revival of old sitcoms on Nick at Nite. A fantasy about two '90s teenagers trapped in a classic '50s sitcom of that name, it's not as ambitious (or pretentious) as the media-paranoid Truman, but it's just as much a product of these times. As the sterile black-and-white world of the series is thrown off-balance by its new members, color begins to burst out and seep in. Pleasantville is really about freeing your true emotions, whether through counseling, self-help books or antidepressants. It's a feel-good movie with a reassuring, therapeutic smile.
Maguire and Witherspoon, as two not terribly happy kids in a single-parent home, are magically zapped into a "Pleasantville" cable marathon by a special remote control concocted by a wizardly TV repairman (Don Knotts). They find themselves in the roles of Bud and Mary Sue, the adorable children of George and Betty Parker (Macy and Allen). The Parkers reside in a flawless recreation (and parody) of such idealized family shows as The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. In this suburban Eden, no one on the high school basketball team ever misses a shot, and, as Witherspoon discovers between classes, the lavatories have no plumbing. Things start to change after she makes out with a handsome but sexually clueless classmate. Dazed, he notices that a single bud on a black-and-white rosebush is now a vivid red.
The digital effects that gradually create a full palette onscreen are pretty and smoothly done, and the acting, especially by homemaker Allen and by Daniels as a soda shop owner and aspiring painter who wouldn't understand how Picasso could have a "blue" period, is delicate and charming. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: A perfectly pleasant experience