Home > 1990 - 1999 > Pleasantville

Pleasantville

Pleasantville title card

Year - 1998
Studio - New Line Cinema
Stars - Tobey McGuire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J.T. Walsh, Reese Witherspoon, Don Knotts
Director - Gary Ross
Writing Credits - Gary Ross (screenplay)
Music - Randy Newman

Synopsis

David (Tobey McGuire), a shy high school student, finds comfort in watching reruns of an old black & white 1950s TV show, "Pleasantville." He looks forward to watching a marathon program of the show, but his promiscuous sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), wants to watch a VH1 concert with her boyfriend. They fight over the remote control and it falls to the floor, breaking into pieces. A TV repairman (Don Knotts) mysteriously arrives and quizzes David on his knowledge of the "Pleasantville" series. When he realizes David's expertise, he gives him a replacement remote, one "with a little more oomph." David uses it to select the marathon channel, and he and Jennifer instantly find themselves transported to the world of Pleasantville. They, themselves, are in black & white, and their parents are the "Ozzie and Harriet-like" George and Betty Parker (William H. Macy and Joan Allen.)

They discover that the inhabitants of Pleasantville live a life of total conformity, and have no awareness of any world outside their own little community. As the 1950s TV show portrayal, married couples sleep in twin beds, and teenagers dating behavior stops at hand holding.

The books in the school are only props, with blank pages. But when David or Jennifer describe books that they remember, the blank pages become filled with that content.

Pleasantville poster

Impatient with her classmates' puritanical innocence, Jennifer directs the basketball captain to take her to Lover's Lane where she seduces him. After, the happily amazed boy sees a red flower in the otherwise black & white garden. David has a job at the soda shop, assisting Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels) who has aspirations to be an artist. David brings him a book of famous paintings, in color, and Bill is inspired to make his own paintings, rendered in color. Betty Parker begins to realize that she is attracted to Bill, and her face slowly changes to color. As Pleasantville citizens are affected in any way emotionally by the two visitors from the future, they, too, change to bright colors. Soon, the monochrome town is populated with many citizens appearing in full color.

Frightened and disturbed by these challenges to the predictable order of Pleasantville, a mob of angry citizens destroy Bill's paintings and burn the books in the street. Mayor Big Bob (J.T. Walsh) and the city council enact laws designed to restore the town to its former self, including restricting paint colors to black, white and gray. David convinces Bill to defy the law by painting a giant colorful mural on the side of the police station. The pair are brought before the council in a auditorium packed with monochrome and "colored" people. David succeeds in making the mayor so angry that he, himself, changes to color, as do the rest of the citizens. When they emerge from the auditorium, the whole of Pleasantville is now fully in color. And the town appliance store has a window display showcasing the new color television sets.

David uses the remote to return to his "real" world, with a new outlook on his life. Meanwhile, back in now colorful 1950 Pleasantville, George Parker asks, "What now?" and both Betty Parker and Bill Johnson respond "I don't know". They all laugh at their new reality.

Show Spoilers