A heartfelt re-creation of 1950s "women's pictures", those Technicolor melodramas made famous by the likes of Douglas Sirk, Far from Heaven delves deeper than the surface crises of those earlier films' well-to-do heroines, exploring racial and sexual issues that would have been unheard of in Hollywood films of that time.
Set in 1957 Connecticut, the story centers around emotionally torn housewife Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore, playing a less clueless ancestor to her character in Haynes's Safe) who discovers that her macho husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay, and soon finds an unexpected comfort in – and an unspoken attraction to – her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Of course, this is 1950s suburbia, so you can imagine the implications of both revelations. Though handled with incredible restraint, this broken triangle still packs a wallop, both undermining and underscoring the story's lovingly kitschy setting.
Haynes is a master at recreating a bygone era. Sometimes his attention to detail works against him – Velvet Goldmine was a gorgeously overworked mess – but here it serves his themes beautifully. It's exciting to see a filmmaker like him around these days, somebody who can effortlessly blend style, story, and mood and come up with something so moving – even transcendent – in the process.
Moore is great in whatever she does, but she truly shines here. Haysbert invests his role with dignity and tenderness, and Quaid gives easily the bravest performance of his career. Cripes, I sound like a freaking press release. Well, I liked the film that much. From its saturated autumnal cinematography to its spot-on '50s dialogue (which manages to be corny without sounding campy) to its real sense of pain and longing, Far From Heaven is one of the best films of the year.