#202 | Reviving Pleasantville

The whitewashed blandness that defines our image of early 1950s culture has inspired a number of parodies and pastiches over the following decades, but few have done it as well as Pleasantville.

Released in 1998, Gary Ross’s underrated comedy stars Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as a pair of modern teenage siblings who, for vaguely defined reasons, find themselves transported into the world of a popular Leave it to Beaver style family sitcom, where their distinctly nineties sensibilities very quickly cause chaos.

Ross previously wrote the screenplay for Big, and Pleasantville has a similar wish-fulfilment angle. Maguire’s character obsessively rewatches the titular sitcom as a way to escape from his own life, in which is parents are separated and the girl of his dreams barely knows he exists.

As Maguire’s promiscuous sister, Witherspoon pretty much steals the movie. Her career was sharply on the rise at this point, with this, Election and Cruel Intentions appearing in quick succession. Her gleeful deflowering of a young Paul Walker sparks a rapid sexual revolution in the town, and provides some of the strongest comedy in the movie.

In one key scene, Witherspoon teaches her own (TV) mother about the joy of sex – with or without a partner. The mother is played by Joan Allen, a staple of 90s movies who sadly seems to have dropped off the radar more recently. She provides the emotional heart of the film, as her cheery housewife demeanour gives way to deeper and more complex feelings – including an affair with local diner owner Jeff Daniels.

In this week’s podcast, we discuss our highlights from the movie, including Allen’s fiery bathtub scene, some rather heavy-handed symbolism and William H. Macy’s fruitless quest for dinner. We also brainstorm some drinking games, check in with our listeners for their reactions and pitch some sequel ideas.

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Next week, we’re flashing back to 2017, and a musical sensation that dominated the charts for a full year – despite less than stellar reviews. Until then, happy listening and remember – nobody’s happy in a poodle skirt and a sweater set