Pleasantville, a 1998 production starring Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as teenage siblings transported into a 1950's situation comedy, is a fantasy movie in the same genre as Groundhog Day and Back to the Future. The great charm of this piece lies in the use of metafictional fantasy, a story about the story, a movie about the movie. In this case, everyone in the town of Pleasantville believes in the perfection and stability of their black and white existence, so when the two kids suddenly become enmeshed in the perfect 1950's family, a conflict is created with only one possible outcome: Life in this town will never be the same. Only the kids know that nothing is real.
The story revolves around the power of art to transform a sclerotic culture. As it turns out, the owner of the local sweet shop, played by Jeff Daniels, is a repressed artist. He begins an affair with the kids' TV mother, portrayed by Joan Allen. Spoiler alert: just like in Titanic, we get to see beautiful nude artwork portraying a naked movie star!
The point of the story is that people can change (a common Hollywood motif). Of course, this belief challenges the reality that most people never change; but this film sells the idea of change so convincingly that the audience is compelled to suspend its disbelief. We all learn to embrace and accept a new world in the dull village of Pleasantville. It begins with kids getting red lips, from kissing. Then comes the moment when a flower shows color. As people come to themselves, they appear in color, which causes scandal among their black and white brethren. The subtext of the civil rights movement is profound.
Through it all, young Maguire plays his role with strength and compassion. He was the fan of the show on TV, in the future, and it was through the repairman, played by Don Knotts, that he received the magical remote control that put him in the picture of his ideal world. Of course, once he was there, he learned that none of that perfect television happiness was real, but he also becomes empowered to produce change, and the possibility of perfect happiness.