Pleasantville was written, produced, and directed by Gary Ross. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, and Reese Witherspoon, with Don Knotts, Paul Walker, and Jane Kaczmarek in supporting roles. New Line Cinema released the movie here in the United States through Warner Bros. on October 23, 1998, but it still remains a favorite of mine as a useful reminder that change is inevitable, which opens up doors to newness and marvel.
Tobey Maguire’s character plays a teenage boy, who is quite satisfied with his mundane lifestyle even though he is very interested in one particular girl. His sister Jennifer, played by Reese Witherspoon, is more extroverted and likes her life just the way it is.
One night, Jennifer plans a meeting at her house with one of the more popular boys at school, because her mom has gone out of town, but her brother has a different idea. He plans on watching the marathon of “Pleasantville” his favorite show of which he has been preparing to enter a contest, but he ends up in a battle over the remote control with his sister as they fight over who gets the downstairs TV that night. This results in the remote getting thrown across the room. Jennifer becomes unraveled because the remote is broken and her date is due to arrive at any moment.
A TV repairman played by Don Knotts inadvertently, shows up at their house. Jennifer lets him in, but both teens are perplexed at the unexpected appearance of this man. Jennifer asks the man to “hurry-up” and fix the TV, so the man asks what the hurry is. Jennifer says it is because she has a date, but Bud explains it is the Pleasantville marathon he wants to watch. The man is happy to hear that Bud likes Pleasantville and begins asking him trivia questions about it and Bud not only gets all the answers correct, but he actually corrects the man on one answer.
The man gives the teens another remote that is quite unique and unusual. After he leaves, the teens once again fight over the remote and during the struggle, buttons are pushed. Instantly, they find themselves in black and white in Pleasantville, no longer David and Jennifer, but rather the TV characters, Bud and Mary-Sue Parker.
David and Jennifer are shocked and confused. The TV repairman is now on the TV in Pleasantville and very enthused that he finally found someone, David, who appreciates Pleasantville as much as he does, but David gets angry, questioning why the man did that to them. The man feels rejected and dismayed by David’s response to what he thought was a kind gesture to a fellow Pleasantville fan so he tells David he is leaving, that he needs to go “cool off.”
David tries to encourage him not to leave, but is unsuccessful.
Bud and Betty-Sue’s folks, played by Joan Allen as Betty and William Macey as George see the teens as their own children, so Bud reminds and encourages Betty-sue to stick to their roles until he figures out how to get them out of there. Mary-Sue, a.k.a. Jennifer is furious, frightened and very much resistant to the idea, but soon realizes that she has no other choice but to concede to Bud’s suggestion.
As the movie unfolds, Bud still keeps a very conservative role just as David did back home. Mary-Sue remains in her role, too and this will eventually shake-up the ultra-conservatism of Pleasantville.
Though Bud repeatedly reminds his sister that she needs to respect the values of Pleasantville, she has a different viewpoint, especially when she meets the boy that Mary-Sue dates, Skip Martin played by Paul Walker. She immediately is attracted to him and begins to plot a way to put the moves on him of which she has had much practice. Bud sees the look on her face that he has seen before and again reiterates that she needs to behave exactly how Mary-Sue would, but his words fall on deaf ears.
In the meantime, the TV repairman is now trying to get David and Jennifer out of Pleasantville because of the disruption going on. He reprimands David, reminding him that he thought David was a true Pleasantville fan, but he is acting like a traitor. David tries to calm down the TV repairman, but to no avail.
This impels David to pleads with his sister to stop changing things in the town, but she suggests that maybe the town needs changing.
In the meantime, Bill Johnson, the malt shop owner is waiting for Bud, who works at the shop, to get there and help make the food. Bud is late and Mr. Johnson is unsure what to do, so he just continues to wipe down the counter over and dover again. When Bud gets there he sees that Mr. Johnson is still cleaning the counter, in fact so much so, it has left a mark on the countertop. Bud interrupts Mr. Johnson and Mr. Johnson explains that he did not know what else to do without Bud. Bud tells him that it is okay for him to make the fries on his own. Mr. Johnson thanks him for that information.
That same night at the shop, Mr. Johnson tells Bud that there are no burgers and this time Bud thoroughly explains to Mr. Johnson that he is capable of making those, too.
This is the onset of Bill’s change.
He later stops over at Bud’s house and tells him that he was able to do the work at the shop, “all by himself.” He explains that he even changed the order of how he did his work and while Bud emboldens Bill’s actions, in the doorway enters Bud’s mother, Betty. She and Bill exchange greetings, intimating a an affection for one another.
In the interim, Betty-Sue has accomplished her goal of getting Skip to lover’s lane where he loses his virginity. On his way home he notices that a rose has a burst of color to it. He tells the basketball team at school of his experience and before long other students are at lover’s lane following suit.
Pleasantville begins to transform from black and white to color, which ignites fear in many of the townspeople.
During work at the malt shop, Bud finds Mr. Johnson huddled in a corner contemplating his life. Bud takes him to the storage room and asks him what the problem is and Mr. Johnson tells him that essentially his life doesn’t really have meaning, that everyday is the same. He says, “Grill the bun flip the meat melt the cheese. It never changes,” but when he closed the shop himself, “that was different” and he liked it. Bud, fearful and adamant, shouts out that Bills should “forget about that.” He goes on to tell Bill that jobs need to be done whether or not people like doing them, but Bill questions that. He goes on to reveal to Bud that he likes Christmas time, because he paints the ornaments, that he “looks forward to all year, but that it seems “silly… a awfully long time to be waiting for one moment.” Bud suggests that Mr. Johnson stop thinking about that and Mr. Johnson passively agrees.
Change is taking place all over town; the undefeated high school basketball team has lost a game. furniture stores are now selling full-size beds and Betty has decided to break her routine at home after she discovers that her womanhood is not confined to being a housewife. She is kind enough to leave prepared meals for George before she leaves him and even includes dessert, but this bold move not only disturbs her George, but he “demands” to know when she will return. Without answering him, she ventures off to Bill’s shop and she is not the only woman making these kinds of changes. With color is still bursting all around and the revisions occurring, more fear arises and ultimately there is a division in the community.
Bud comes to realize that Mr. Johnson now has a new way of thinking, so he is inspired to bring him a book on some of the greatest artists. This results in Bill painting a naked mural of Bud’s mom in vibrant colors on the window of his store.
Violence breaks out and the store is vandalized, so the leaders of the community call a meeting to find a resolve.
During this time, Betty-Sue is grappling with why she has not yet become colorized and tells her brother that she has had “ten times as much sex as the other girls,” but remain in black and white. Her brother explains that maybe it is not the sex. This idea leads Betty-sue to a higher concept of herself. She takes on a different attitude and begins reading books, leaving sexual activity in her past. This new behavior transforms her from pasty to vivid.
Bud recognizes that the pattern of complicity and monotonous lifestyles of the community in Pleasantville is inhibiting and confining, so he forfeits the old way of conservatism and embarks upon his own journey of change. This leads him to a brighter sense of self.
In the end, the town’s people all become in one accord and life moves past the boundaries of fear, judgment and tedium.
Going from black and white or a life with only two options may be a safer way to live, but without uniqueness, variation and diversification, we remain insipid and prosaic.
Life is more beautiful with color. Paint some in your world!