Pleasantville (1998): Gary Ross Impressive Directing Debut, Starring Tobey Maguire

It may be a coincidence that “Pleasantville” and “The Truman Show” were made in the same year, but they are good companion pieces, sharing thematic similarities as well as significant visual and other differences.

Gary Ross made an impressive directorial debut with this original, well-produced serio comedy “Pleasantville,” based on his screenplay. Up until then Ross was an accomplished scribe, Oscar-nominated for two charming comedies, “Big” and “Dave.”

World-premiering at the 1998 Toronto Film Fest, “Pleasantville” opened to wide critical acclaim and was nominated for several Oscars.

Tobey Maguire plays David, a shy suburban teen David who has an almost obsessive interest in the TV series, “Pleasantville.” Living with his divorced mother (Jane Kaczmarek), David sometimes has disputes with his hip twin sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). She wants to watch MTV just when a Pleasantville marathon is about to begin. They struggle over the remote control, and it breaks.

A strange TV repairman (Don Knotts) then provides a new remote, a potent high-tech device which zaps David and Jennifer inside “Pleasantville,” where their new sitcom parents are businessman George Parker (William H. Macy) and wife Betty (Joan Allen).

As “Bud” and “Mary Sue,” the teens take up residence in a black-and-white suburbia where sex does not exist and the temperature is always the same, 72 degrees.

It’s a uniform life in which books have no words, bathrooms have no toilets, married couples sleep in twin beds, the high school basketball team always wins, and nobody ever questions “The Good Life.”

At first, David revels in Pleasantville’s Prozac-styled peacefulness. He fits right in, but Jennifer’s 1990s attitude upsets the balance, painting parts of Pleasantville in “living color.”

Indeed, repressed desires surface, and cracks appear in the seemingly quiet and peaceful 1950s lifestyles. As a result, the Pleasantville populace finds their lives changing in strange, unpredictable ways. While the changes are liberating, there’s also a darker side to them.

Harsh critics claimed that “Pleasantville” is just another glossy, high-concept movie, failing to see the essence of this fable and its humanistic values, preaching for life in its full colors, that is diversity, heterogeneity, sexual expression, and tolerance for any socio-cultural difference.

At the same, much was made of the fact of the film’s all-time record of having more than 1,700 special effects shots.


Oscar Nominations: 3

Art Direction: Jeannine Oppewall, Jay Hart

Costume design: Judianna Makovsky

Original Dramatic Score: Randy Newman


Oscar Awards: None


David (Tobey Maguire)

Betty (Joan Allen)

George (William H. Macy)

Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon)

Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels)

TV Repairman (Don Knotts)

Big Bob (J. T. Walsh)

Mary Sue (Natalie Ramsey)

Bud (Kevin Connors)

Girl in School Yard (Heather McGill)


Produced by Jon Kilik, Robert J. Degus, Steven Soderbergh, Gary Ross

Directed and written by Gary Ross

Camera: John Lindley

Editing: William Goldenerg

Music: Randy Newman

Visual Effects: Chris Watts

Color effects: Michael Southard