William H. Macy
J. T. Walsh
Original Music Score
Written and Directed
When we go to the movies or watch a film on DVD for the first time we do so with certain expectations. These expectations are usually formed and influenced by things we have seen, heard, or read in the media whether it's from teasers, trailers, interviews with the director, producers or stars, or even a tidbit of something we may have read on the internet. Sometimes we have certain expectations because the film is a sequel and having seen the previous incarnation we know what is forthcoming and expect it to either advance the story or to improve upon the previous rendering. Or perhaps the film is based on a novel we have read, and we enter the theater hoping that the film lives up to it’s literary ancestry.
When movies fulfill these expectations, we leave the theater or return the DVD rental taking comfort in the knowledge that it was money well spent. When a film does not give us what we expect of it, or what is on the screen fails to live up to the hype, it leaves not only a sour taste in our mouth, but an unfulfilled emptiness inside. Not to mention that whatever money you spent is now lost forever, along with the time you had invested in it.
I bring up all of these points because there are times when a movie not only lives up to expectations, it also far exceeds them. And although it doesn't happen that often, when it does take place, it is perhaps the best movie going experience that any of us could have or ever want.
The first time when I was about to watch Pleasantville I was sure that it would be nothing more than a high concept combination of fantasy and comedy. The premise of two teenagers from the the 1990’'s who are magically zapped into a fifties sit-com where they experience all the joys of carefree living and uptight morality, had endless possibilities for some genuine fish out of water humor. If Pleasantville had been one of those comedy capers churned out by the Disney Studios in the sixties and seventies, perhaps something like the Misadventures of Merlin Jones in a TV Time Machine, then I'm sure that is the kind of film we may have seen. Not that such a thing would have automatically been bad, it just would have been different, perhaps funny, but undoubtedly predictable.
But Pleasantville writer, director, and producer Gary Ross had something entirely different in mind when he brought Pleasantville to the screen. What we get is a film that takes a fantastic fantasy premise and turns it into a an allegory about life, morals, prejudices, and the fact that this world that we live in will always be changing and evolving so we damn well better learn to cope with it.
The early moments of Pleasantville are just about what one would expect. But there are indications right away that you will be getting more than you bargained for.
The film centers around brother and sister David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) who also happen to be twins. As brother, sister, and twins, they are absolutely nothing alike and have absolutely nothing in common.
David, is shy, quiet, a bit mousy, and has never dated. He fantasizes about asking a girl out, but can never quite work up the courage to do so. He is troubled by the world around him. His teachers are full of gloom and doom regarding the future, his parents are divorced, and both he and his sister seem to be nothing more than a burden to their mother who after being a housewife and mother for so many years, yearns for a certain amount of her own freedom once again.
So David escapes from his troubled world by wrapping himself up in an old fifties situation comedy called Pleasantville that airs on TV Time which is supposed to be the equivalent of our TV Land (or what TV Land was supposed to be before it degenerated into the useless cable crap that it is now) Pleasantville is the perfect world that David imagines being a part of because it is a place where everything is always "pleasant.” And because the family in the show, The Parkers, seem to be leading the idyllic life he can only dream about, it becomes David’s daily escape from reality.
Jennifer has her goals as well. Actually it's one goal which renders itself to a lot of different scenarios: Being the most popular girl in school and dating the most popular guy. She intends to achieve this even if it requires a certain amount of moral looseness. Having David for a geeky brother doesn't help. Jennifer's world would be a lot better place for her if that fact didn't exist, so much so that she tries not to even acknowledge that it does.
Jennifer's Friend: (speaking about David) Oh my God! He is like so pathetic! I can't believe you're related to him.
Jennifer: Only on my parent's side.
Jennifer's Friend: Yeah, but you guys are like twins and stuff. You must be from the cool side of the uterus.
And so it is that one Friday night Jennifer is finally able to invite the guy of her dreams over to her house to watch an MTV concert on the very same night that David plans on tuning into a Pleasantville Marathon so that he can win a trivia contest. This also takes place on the evening that their mother (Jane Kaczmarek) is leaving town to be with a younger boyfriend and she departs without nary a word to Jennifer or David.
Before Jennifer's boyfriend can arrive a tug of war ensues over the remote control and as their bad luck would have it, the remote ends up being accidentally thrown against the wall and shattered. Bad news if that is the only way to turn the TV off and on.
But help arrives mysteriously and almost instantly (as it just about has to with a premise such as this) in the form of Don Knotts as a TV Repairman.
After subtly giving David a quick trivia quiz on Pleasantville, Don the TV Repair Guy gives them a remote that he says "has a little more oomph in it."
Don The Repairman: Sure. A big beautiful set like that. You want something that'll put you right in the show.
As soon as Repairman Knotts has left, David uses the ooomphy remote to switch on the TV which promptly results in another remote tug of war with Jennifer at the same time that two of the characters from Pleasantville, Bud and Mary Sue Parker are having their own tug of war over Mary Sue's transistor radio. Add a little lightning, a whole lot of sparks, and David and Jennifer are zapped right into the TV screen replacing Bud and Mary Sue Parker. Well, not exactly.
It seems in fact, that they have become Bud and Mary Sue. Although they look exactly the same to us and to each other, to everybody in Pleasantville they are the characters they have replaced. And oh yeah, they are now in living black and white.
"Look at me! I'm pasty," proclaims Jennifer.
Shortly thereafter Don The TV Repairman appears on the 50's type television attempting to explain everything to David and Jennifer. When they don't seem too appreciative of his efforts, he decides it is best to leave the two teenagers where they are until he (the repairman) isn't too emotional.
Their 50's Pleasantville parents, George (William H. Macy) and Betty Parker (Joan Allen) don't see anything amiss either, with George even encouraging "Sport" and "Muffin" to hurry or they'll be late for school without batting an eye over the fact that the two teenagers might look a bit different. When Jennifer informs Betty that she isn't hungry in response to a complete breakfast buffet that Betty has cooked up, one that would probably feed the population of Rhode Island, George and Betty simply laugh it off.
"Nonsense Young, Lady, You're going to start your day off with a hot breakfast," Betty tells her.
For his part, David seems to be able to adapt to being in black and white in Pleasantville quite comfortably. Not so, Jennifer who doesn't have the slightest clue as to why they are going to a 50's high school and lets David know about it in no uncertain terms:
(talking about the breakfast she has just eaten) All that animal fat, I can feel it in my pores. I still don't see why we're doing this.
David: Because we're supposed to be in school.
Jennifer: We're supposed to be at home! We're supposed to be in color!.......You listen to me for just a minute. I don't know what you've done but you better fix it, fast. I had a date with Mark David and I even bought new underwear.
David: Okay. We have to play along for a little while until that guy shows up again.
Jennifer: Play along!?
David: Yes, I am Bud Parker and you are Mary Sue.
Jennifer: No. No, I'm not going to do it. If I don't dress like this for mom, I'm sure as hell not going to do it for you.
David: We have no choice, Jen. We are stuck here until that guy shows up again.
Jennifer: Why can't we just explain it to someone?
David: To who?
A question to which Jennifer has no answer. But there is one thing that does help her come around. A good looking hunk by the name of Skip Martin (Paul Walker) who happens by during their initial trek to school.
David: Skip Martin, captain of the basketball team.
Jennifer: Does he like me?
David: As a matter of fact, he does.
Later, David points out Jennifer's friends.
Jennifer:Those are my friends?
David: Peggy Jane, Lisa Anne, Betty Jean
Jennifer: Can we do any better?
David: I don't think so.
So it is left up to David to keep Jennifer out of trouble and to keep her from making Pleasantville anything less than perfect by convincing her to continue to follow the script. And at first Pleasantville does seem to be a Utopia of sorts.
It is a perfect 72 degrees all the time. There is never any inclement weather. The basketball team makes every basket and wins every game. Nothing ever burns, and the only job the fire department has is to rescue cats out of trees. Nobody ever has a harsh word for anybody else. And everybody knows what they are expected to do and what the end result will be.
But as it is, keeping things perfect turns out to be a full time job for David. For instance, when Skip asks David if it is okay to ask Mary Sue (Jennifer) out on a date, David replies that now might not be the best time to do so, even though he knows he is supposed to reply affirmatively. This prompts Skip to angrily shoot the basketball he is holding and for the first time in his life it fails to go in. As the other players look on in disbelief and as the ball rolls slowly down the court, the coach tells them to "stand back and don't touch it."
"I'm sure we'll work something out," David quickly recants to Skip.
Later, when David asks her to go out with Skip, Jennifer is not sure.
I thought you liked him.
Jennifer: Yeah, but I don't know
David: One date Jen, that's all I'm asking. If you don't go out with this guy we could throw their whole universe out of whack.
Jennifer: It's too weird David, this place gives me the creeps. Did you know the books are blank? I went in the library, they have covers and there is nothing inside of them.
David: What were you doing in the library?
Jennifer: I got lost.
David: Jen, listen. I will get us out of here. I really will, but if we don't play along we can alter their whole existence, and then we may never get home.
Jennifer: Do you really think anybody's going to notice if I don't have a chocolate malt with this guy?
But it doesn't take long to realize that for their perfect existence, the citizens of Pleasantville are paying a price. Other than what exists within the confined borders of their town, nothing else exists for them, and their life is as predictable as well, a TV sitcom.
In geography class, the students are taught that Main Street begins where Elm Street ends. When Jennifer asks the teacher what is at the end of Main Street, everybody looks at her as if she had just uttered the first curse word ever heard.
"At the end of Main Street is the beginning of Main Street," the Teacher explains.
The days of the citizens of Pleasantville are made up of the same dull and deadly scripted daily routine, such as Bridge on Tuesday, Meatloaf on Wednesday, Chicken on Sunday. The men all leave for work at the same time, and they all come home precisely on schedule every day. They each enter the house in the same way, through the same kind of gate, and the same kind of door, with the expectations that their spouses will have a fully cooked meal on the table. Their wives are here for nothing more than to take care of the house, look after the kids when necessary (which isn't much since nothing bad ever takes place), and have those extravagant home cooked dinners on the table at the proper time.
When they bowl, nobody gets less than a spare. The malt shop sells only one type of food: cheeseburgers and fries. Their existence remains constant from day to day, never changing, never experiencing sadness, hurt, or anger. Nobody is born, nobody dies, so there is no need for a hospital.
The married couples all sleep in twin beds, so there is no joy of sex. It is a land of Stepford People in a sense, not because the citizens of Pleasantville are robotic emotionally, but because they only know the confined world in which they exist, nothing more nothing less. They are hamsters running constantly on the same caged wheel.
They have the same emotions available to them as you or I do, but with no disasters, threat of death, or unpleasantness to trigger any emotional extremes, and absolutely nothing to stir their curiosity, they remain a constantly happy, smiling, bunch. They are the ultimate lemmings.
But just as David accidentally upset the grand Pleasantville master plan when he told Skip that Mary Sue (Jennifer) might not go out with him, the same thing happens when David is late for work. His boss at the malt shop, Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels), is unable to cope with this one tiny deviation from the pattern that he has followed for all of his existence.
David: What's wrong?Later, after Bud has left early, Bill shows up at their home.
Bill: Well, I always wipe down the counter, and then you set out the napkins and the glasses, and then I make the French Fries. But you didn't come so I just kept wiping. (At this point both we and David see that he has wiped the finish completely off of the counter)
David: I'm sorry. You know, if this ever happens again, you can make the fries even if I haven't put out the napkins yet.
Bill: Oh! Thank you!
Bill: Bud, you know how when we close up I close the register and then you lower the blinds and I turn out the lights and we both lock the doors? Well you weren't around this time so I did the whole thing by myself.And while all of this may seem insignificant to some, these first baby steps Bill has taken will open the shackles of his existence that he has been bound to for an eternity. And when Betty suddenly appears in the doorway, there is an instant hint of attraction between them as if somebody had suddenly lit up their pheromones with a gasoline torch. And just as it doesn't escape our notice, it doesn't go unnoticed by David either.
Bill: And I didn't even do it in the same order. First I lowered the blinds and then I closed the register.
Not one to be tied down to the morals of the 50's, it doesn't take long for Jennifer to do her own thing despite David's warnings. On her very first date with Skip, Jennifer seduces him at Lovers Lane.
Later, when Skip drives away after having dropped Jennifer at her home, we see Pleasantville's first splash of color in a single rose and it almost comes as a shock. By this time we have become so accustomed to the stark black and white world of Pleasantville, it's as if the rose is there as a sign that things are indeed changing.
The next day Skip relates his experience of the previous night to the basketball team who stand and listen in awe. Sort of a kiss and tell section. But don't blame Skip. He didn't know any better. Afterwards the basketball team is unable to make a single basket. When David tries to admonish Jennifer for what she has done, it is Jennifer who becomes the voice of reason:
David: You can't do this Jennifer, I warned you.(At which point Jennifer points out a girl blowing bubbles, bubbles that are in living color.)
Jennifer: So what's the big deal? Oh, Ok. They're not good at basketball anymore. Oh my God, what a tragedy!
David: You don't understand. You're messing with their whole goddamn universe.
Jennifer: Maybe it needs to be messed with, David. Did that ever occur to you?
P.J. (calling from the end of the hall): Hey M.S., how are you doing?
Jennifer: Cool, P.J. How you doing?
P.J.: Cool, Cool.
David: COOL! COOL? What are you doing to these people? You can't do this to them.
Jennifer: If I don't do it, who will?
David: But they're happy like this.
Jennifer: No. David, nobody is happy in a poodle skirt and a sweater set. You really like this don't you? No, it's not like you think it's funny or dorky or anything. You really like it.
David: No, you have it all wrong.
Jennifer: Stop. I am personally mortified to be your sister.
David: You have no right to do this to them.
Jennifer: David, listen to me for just a minute. People don't want to be geeks. They want to be attractive. They have a lot of potential. They just don't know any better.
David: They don't have that kind of potential.
Jennifer: Oh yeah, look at that.
And it isn't long before Jennifer and Skip aren't the only ones making out at Lover's Lane. At one point it seems as if every teenager in town is parked there. And as the townspeople have new worlds and ideas open up to them, color begins slowly creeping into their lives.
When Betty is playing cards with her friends, the conversation turns to a green car parked in front of Bill Johnson's Malt shop. We see the effect the very mention of Bill Johnson has on her, and when she opens up her cards, they too are in color.
While doing dishes one night, Betty finally asks Jennifer what is it the kids do at Lover's Lane.
"Do they hold hands?" Betty asks.
"Well, yes," Jennifer answers.
"Is that all?" Betty asks again.
At first Jennifer is hesitant to answer but she does.
"Well, there's also sex," she tells her quietly. And Jennifer explains it to her just as a mother would explain to her daughter.
Betty mulls it over for just a second. "What's sex?" she asks
"Are you okay?" Jennifer asks when she is finished.
Afterwards, Betty tells Jennifer that her father would never do anything that she has described.
"Well, you know mom, there are other ways," Jennifer tells her.
So later, when Betty gives herself an orgasm of cataclysmic proportions, some sort of built up energy force is released causing the tree in their yard to burst into flames by spontaneous combustion.
It is also the first fire Pleasantville has ever seen as evidenced by the fact that when David goes to the Fire Department and yells "Fire" nobody moves. When he yells "cat" they all head for the fire truck and head to the fire. But upon arrival their only question is, "Where's the cat?"
In one particular episode of the TV series Pleasantville, Margaret Henderson (Marley Shelton) had baked oatmeal cookies for a guy named Whitey (David Tom) who then drover her out to lover's lane. But it is Bud (David) she has a crush on now after he has become a local hero.
Although at first insisting that the cookies are Whitey's, Bud ends up finally succumbing to what is becoming inevitable.
Later, at the Malt Shop, the other kids along with Jennifer are waiting for David as Dave Brubeck's Take Five plays in the background. By now, parts of the diner and a several of the students are in living color. They would like to know how David knew how to put out the tree fire:
Jennifer (quietly): Hey
David (Looking around puzzled): Hey. What's going on?
Jennifer: I'm not sure. They want to ask you a question I didn't really know how to handle it.
David (speaking to the students): You wanted to ask me something?
Student: How'd you know about the fire?
Student: How'd you know how to put it out?
David: Oh. Well, where I used to live that's just what firemen did.
Student: And where's that?
David is unsure if he should answer but it is obvious that everyone in the soda shop including Bill, who is behind the counter listening attentively, not only wants an explanation, but that they won't be satisfied until they get one.
David: Outside of Pleasantville. (The students are amazed that such a thing is even possible.)
Student: What's outside of Pleasantville?
David (trying to put the genie back in the bottle): It doesn't matter it's not important.
But it is too late. Once you achieve a thirst for knowledge there’s no shutting it down. And as if David needed anymore convincing, Margaret steps out of the crowd.
Margaret: What's outside of Pleasantville?
David: There are some places that the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.
Students in unison in a whisper: Keeps going!?"
Female Student: Keeps Going?
David: Yeah it just keeps going. It all keeps going, rivers and roads.
Another Student: Like the mighty Mississippi?
David (surprised that he even knows about the Mississippi): What?
The student hands David a copy of Huckleberry Finn. Inside, half of the book has words and pictures on what used to be blank pages.
David: I thought the books were blank?
Student: They were.
Jennifer: Okay. This was not my fault. When they asked me what it was about, I didn't remember because I read it back in the tenth grade. When I told them what I did remember, that's when the pages filled in.
David: The pages filled in?
Jennifer: Um....hmm...but only up until the part with the raft. 'Cause that's as far as I read.
Student: Do you know how it ends?
David: Yeah, I do.
Margaret: So, how does it end?
David: Well, Ok. Let's see they were running away, Huck and the slave, They were trying to get up the river, trying to get free. And in trying to get free they see that they are sort of free already
And at that moment the rest of the words and pictures magically fill the pages.
Before long there is a line of students waiting to get into the library. More and more students begin to appear in color as the doors of knowledge have now been sprung open and their world expanded beyond the confines of Pleasantville.
And it is at this point that the film begins to steer away from its comedic tone to take on one of a more ominous nature. Because when there is change, there will always be those who view it as a threat.
In Pleasantville there are citizens who can't deal with the fact that some of their friends are buying double beds when they've always slept in twin beds or that the basketball team could possibly lose a game, or even that a girl might wear a provocatively tight red sweater.
The husbands want their dinner on the table when they come home and the house to be taken care of properly. The very idea of sleeping in a double bed is horrendous to them. They would rather find a way to not only impede change, but to revert things back to the way of life they had always known, because for them it worked just fine that way.
But this is not just a product of Pleasantville. This idea that change or progress is always unwanted exists in our own societies, now more then ever, and when change does come there are those who resent it just as as much as they do in Pleasantville. Worse, we now have those that would love to do nothing more than turn back the hands of time, and eradicate thirty or more years of progress. And with resentment of that change comes hatred, and ridicule, and prejudice against those things that they cannot understand, nor attempt to understand. Everything and anybody suddenly becomes a threat, an invader in their safe cocoon.
And just as the citizens of Pleasantville learn from David and Jennifer, the two of them learn as well. For the first time Jennifer begins to discover that there is more to life beyond being the most popular girl in school and "doing the slut thing.”
Seeing the sudden thirst for knowledge and the longing to expand their horizons causes Jennifer to do something she would never have done had she not been zapped into Pleasantville. For the first time in her life she reads a book, from beginning to end and she begins to see all things she had always thrown by the wayside or had no use for previously.
Jennifer: What's wrong?
David (stepping into her room and seeing that she is reading): Listen....you're reading?
Jennifer: I can't believe you started such a dorky fad. It's D.H. Lawrence. You ever heard of him?
Jennifer: Yeah I read a couple of pages. Seemed kind of sexy.
David: It is
Jennifer: Can I ask you a question?
Jennifer: How come I'm still in black and white?
Jennifer: I've had 10 times as much sex as the rest of these girls and I still look like this. I mean they spend like an hour in the back seat of some car and all of a sudden they're in Technicolor!
David: I don't know. Maybe it's not just the sex.
And just by reading one book, Jennifer discovers for herself that it is not just the sex. Only when sex begins to mean something does it take it to a higher level. And because that book has open new worlds of her own, it becomes the most precious thing she could own. It is the first book she has ever read from cover to cover.
David has his own voyage of discovery. He learns that you cannot escape that which is around you. You cannot hide or lose yourself in order not to cope with those afflictions that occur in your daily life.
And in their own moment of self discovery, David and Jennifer find not only themselves, but begin to look upon each other as something other than a nuisance brought about by their circumstances of birth.
As we also find out, being free, being able to choose, does have a price. But it is a price that we pay for those freedoms. Things may work out and they may not. Life can be messy sometimes, and just as David discovers, it is better to deal with it than to hide your head in the sand or pretend it doesn't exist.
This is a wonderfully conceived film. Even after giving you a synopsis that takes you about halfway through the film I'm tempted to do more. But printed words can never do it justice, as the visuals in it are every bit as important as the dialog.
And worse, if you’ve never seen the film, you would never forgive me for depriving you of discovering everything else the film holds in store for you. Each scene is cleverly written, crafted and pieced together by Gary Ross. You can watch this film over and over again, and there will always be new discoveries.
When the teenagers are in the classroom, the teachers desk is lined perfectly with all the apples that each student has brought. When Mayor Big Bob (J.T. Walsh in his last role) stands in front of the bowling screens as if they were the US flag (a scene in which Ross says he was paying homage to Patton), every frame is either a spare or a strike. When all the men of the house arrive home at the same time it is like a well choreographed ballet. And David and Margaret’s trip to Lover’s Lane with the late Etta James singing At Last, is unforgettably beautiful
The acting is outstanding on all fronts. After having seen Reese Witherspoon in The Man in the Moon prior to this film, it becomes obvious that her great performance as Dani Trent was no fluke. She never overplays Jennifer to a point where she becomes unlikable, even in her toying seduction of Skip. And her transformation isn't one that hits you over the head. It's obvious, yet subtle, and so gradual that it just kind of creeps up on you.
Tobey Maguire is a discovery here before he went on to spin his Spidey web. When his real life mother leaves home for the rendezvous, and you can almost feel his need to be recognized by her. Without saying a word, his attraction towards Margaret becomes the driving force in his own reincarnation. Whether it's explaining books in the soda shop, or rendezvousing with Margaret at Lover’s Lane he gets it right and every scene is as unforgettable as the previous ones.
As Betty Parker, Joan Allen not only matches Maguire and Witherspoon every step of the way, but even surpasses them in a truly remarkable performance that should have been acknowledged more than it was at the time. The scene in which Toby goes to the kitchen to see what is keeping her from bringing Big Bob his pineapple kabobs is priceless, as are her many scenes with both Jeff Daniels and William H. Macy. She is moving, touching, and graceful. She’ll make your heart break.
It would be really easy to totally dislike the character of Macy’s George, but we don't. He has lived all his life by the rules of the same dull routine day after day. He is unable to deal with any little thing out of the ordinary that doesn't fit the script. One telling moment expertly played by Macy, happens when he returns home from work to find the gate open. It has never been left open before. He swings the gate trying to figure out or better yet, trying to understand how it such a thing could possibly be. When he goes into the house he puts his hat on the coat rack, sets down his luggage, and yells, "Honey, I'm Home." Just as he has done countless times before. But when there is no response, his first reaction is that he did something out of order, so he replays everything he has done to make sure he got it exactly right.
There is not one bad performance in this film, not one wasted scene, and not one wasted sentence of dialog. And it is all complemented by what I consider one of Randy Newman’s best scores. (using the YouTube embedding below, the soundtrack selections will play continuously)
I don't know what propelled Ross to use Dave Brubeck's Take Five for the Soda Shop enlightenment scene, but it works and the music piece has become a favorite of mine since the first time I saw this film just because of that scene alone. Every time I watch the particular beautifully photographed scene where David drives into Lover’s Lane with Margaret and we hear Etta James’s magnificent vocal I just want to replay it again and again and again.
There is no doubt that Gary Ross's film was a labor of love. I don't think that audiences gave it the recognition it deserved upon its release, nor did it receive much in the way of accolades from the major awards. But it should have.
The film grossed an estimated $40 million on a $40 million dollar budget. But although some critics such as Roger Ebert loved it as did the late Gene Siskel (both critics placed the film in their top ten for 1998 with Siskel placing it at number 3 and Ebert placing it at a lofty number 2 ), there were other critics who for some strange reason tried to apply logic in a world that does not play by the rules they are used to. They don’t understand that the film was never meant to play by any set of rules known to us. It is as Roger Ebert called it, “a parable.” Thus the ideas behind the film completely escape them.
Many of them perceive the film as simply a criticism of sanitized television broadcast in the 50's and an exaggerated look at the sit coms of the 50's and early 60's TV. I don't think Ross ever meant for the town of Pleasantville to be exactly like those depicted in shows such as Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, or Ozzie and Harriet.
Pleasantville is in fact an over the top facsimile of those towns for reasons that are always readily apparent.
It is depicted that way to bring home a message, a message that life is ever changing, sometimes for the good, and sometimes not so good. But if we don't evolve as times change, and when we don't use those freedoms given to us or stand up for our beliefs, or when we fall into a pattern of unified conformity as so often is the case these days to satisfy our thirst for instant gratification (in a way, much like Jennifer’s goal of instant popularity), then we are no different and no better than the townspeople of Pleasantville.
As much as we would like for things always to remain constant, change cannot and will not be held back, nor should it be feared. More importantly, especially in the times in which we live now, where people are quickly denigrated for opinions and thoughts beyond that of the masses, one should be able to express new ideas and different opinions without fear, without malice, and without contempt.
It doesn't really matter to me how other critics may view the film. It's one of those rare films that touches me no matter how often I view it. And when a film does that I have no choice but to render it a grade of A+.