All That Melodrama Allows

Far From Heaven 12A

Far From Heaven

Todd Haynes’ homage to Douglas Sirk’s style of social critique by way of melodrama, masterfully tells the story of a well-to-do suburban couple in 1950s America, straitjacketed by convention, yet desperate to lead lives they are seemingly denied.

In the autumn of 1957 in the affluent small town of Hartford, Connecticut, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is a beautiful but sober mother of two, married to Frank (Dennis Quaid), a ruggedly handsome, former naval officer, now go-ahead executive at a television company. It is a blissfully happy family scene into which drama and tragedy have yet to intrude. It’s shattered when Cathy surprises Frank at work and finds him in the arms of another man. Unable to tell anyone in her social circle, she finds solace in their African-American gardener, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). However, when they are seen alone together by Cathy's best friend - a social taboo in that era - the gossip begins, threatening to reveal all of the Whitaker's secret life.

In rethinking Douglas Sirk’s 1955 melodrama All That Heaven Allows, Haynes conjured up an extinct cinematic genre with an eerie exactitude and expanded Sirk’s definition of romantic transgression so as to cross both racial and sexual lines, as well as those of class. Using melodrama to shed a painful, unflattering light on his own time, Haynes’ brilliant film, like with the best and bravest melodramas of the 1950’s, was both beautiful and bold, saying out loud what those earlier films could only hint at.

Check out our June Podcast to hear our cinema curator Mark Cosgrove and film writer Tara Judah make the case for melodrama; and explore its heightened tension, searing emotions and progressive female characters.