Pleasantville - The SSL Review

Why am I SSL reviewing a movie from 1998? Because I can, that's why. Actually, I passed the Pleasantville DVD while walking through Best Buy a couple weeks ago, and I suddenly remembered that this movie had some solidly reviewable insinuations about female sexual functioning. "I have to re-watch this and blog!!!" I said. Then, true to my own inner thoughts, I did just that.

As always, let's get my overall review out of the way. I like Reese Witherspoon. She (and of course Marky Mark of the Funky Bunch) are actors that I kinda trust. If she (or, again, Marky Mark) is in a movie, I feel like it'll probably be at least alright. She's in movies that should be absolutely crap, but they just aren't - like Legally Blonde. I think she picks well, and I think she has an engaging personality onscreen. That's my opinion, but if you've read my blog before, you know I believe everyone has a pure and righteous right to irrationally love or hate any actor, so don't get over excited if that's not your opinion. Anyway...the movie is sweet and fun. It's a feel-good movie, the kind I like to catch on TV on a Saturday afternoon, but it's a smarter one. I recommend checking this one out if you have not yet. As for the SSL review - I'm happy to say that I'm quite positive about that too.

An important thing to know about this movie is that it is PG-13. A lot of movies I review are R, simply because the nature of the SSL review. It has to include some depiction or discussion of female sexual release, and that's gonna likely make it an R, an NC-17, and only occasionally a PG-13. The thing about a PG-13 movie, though, is that it gets much more viewership and a much younger audience. It can reach people who don't generally like watching movies with sexual content or reach young people who are just beginning to care about their own sexuality. In short, it's messages about how and when females physically reach orgasm can have a higher impact - which in this movie's case, I'm mostly happy about.

There are 2 main scenes of note. The first is a scene where Jennifer (Witherspoon) is getting it on with a boy in a car on Lover's Lane. I'll spare the details about inter-time/inter-television travel, but let me just say that Jennifer is a modern, sexually experienced gal, who has an infinite amount of sexual knowledge compared to the ridiculously naive boy she's with. The camera pans down to the car. We see poodle skirts and saddle shoes tastefully in the air. As this is happening, we hear both Jennifer and her date making uh uh, moany, sex noises. It's not crazy over the top, but it could easily make you feel as if there is an orgasm in progress. However, just as the camera gets to the car, the couple pops up. He's concerned that somethings wrong; that he might be sick or something. Without any real words about it, we in the audience can assume that he doesn't know about erections. Jennifer quickly tells him that it's exactly what should be happening, and they duck back into the car - and the scene ends.

Since we don't know any actual details about what's going on in that car, the default assumption for most audience members is that it's intercourse. My only small problem here is that I feel like the noises during the pan insinuate that it's making her orgasm, and that it's the "continuous all through the sex act" orgasm of porn lore. As always, I'm not arguing that it is impossible for a woman to orgasm during intercourse. I'm simply saying that she can't orgasm during intercourse without some kind of clitoral stimulation - however, she can get it. Unfortunately, orgasmic sex scenes almost never show situations where clitoral stimulation is occurring. Part of my reason for SSL reviewing is to call out depictions of orgasms resulting from acts that are highly unlikely to cause orgasms in actual women (which is unfortunately most that are depicted).

However, with that said, I don't think this scene is actually too offensive to my orgasm sensibilities. Once the teens pop up, we see that they, although noisy, where not on the verge of orgasm, and we really don't know for sure what was going on. A viewer could just as easily assume that they were both just enjoying their time and not relate it to an actual orgasm. If I had made the scene though, I would have toned down the uh-uhs so that there wasn't such a strong a connection between orgasm sounds and intercourse for all the young 13 year old girls (and boys) out there who are curious to see what they should be expecting when they actually have the ol' intercourse one day.

The 2nd scene of note is my fave.  Also, just so you're up to speed, Jennifer is a 90's gal in the body of a teen TV character within a show like Leave It To Beaver. The people in this town are naive to to say the least...about things like sex, rain, what exists outside Pleasantville...you get my drift. As people in this town find passion within themselves, whatever kind it may be, they begin to make themselves and the world around them move from black and white to full color. Anyway, Jennifer and her mother are together washing dishes, and her mother asks her what goes on at Lovers Lane, holding hands? Jennifer tells her yes...and also other stuff. Her mom is super curious and earnest and asks her what other stuff.
Jennifer:  Well, sex.
Mother: Oh.....What's sex?
Jennifer: Are you sure you want to know this?
Mother: Shakes her head
Jennifer: Ok. Well you see mom, when 2 people really love each other very much.....
She trails off as the camera pans out of the house and then we cut to the two at the kitchen table.
Jennifer: Are you ok?
Mother: Yes, it's just that...your father would never do anything like that.
Jennifer: Ah...Well, you know mom, there are other ways to enjoy yourself...without dad.
Yes there are Jennifer, yes there are. The next cut is to Mother turning on the bath. She undresses and looks in the mirror a bit nervous as her husband is getting ready for bed in the other room. When she gets in the bath, we are only allowed a tight shot of her face and upper shoulders. There is absolutely no sense of motion in her shoulders that would indicate her hands are exploring around down in her nether regions. I'm assuming the lack of movement was a bow to the movie raters (seriously, they crack down on female pleasure - watch This Film Is Not Yet Rated). Anyway, we see in her face and her gentle noises that she is obviously moving herself towards orgasm. As this is happening, color is popping up all over her bathroom, and then we cut out to the black and white tree outside her window which suddenly bursts into beautiful vibrant flames - the first fire Pleasantville has ever seen.

Two females talking about masturbation in a positive way and a scene where a woman tastefully masturbates herself to orgasm in a PG-13 movie? hells yes! A frank discussion about sex and masturbation between mother and daughter (even if it is kinda backward)? You know it!!

On another point, we have no indication how she touched herself during masturbation. It's left up to the imagination - which is fine by me. As long as the scene doesn't indicate that women stick things up their vaginas, imitating intercourse, as a means to masturbate to orgasm, it's cool. If this were a viewers first introduction to a depiction of masturbation (as it very well may be for the young teens that can watch it), it's probably best that there is nothing to indicate what one should look like and how one should touch one's self. Masturbation at its core is simply an exploration of what feels good - that happens to ends up with an orgasm most times. So, I actually like what is unshown in this scene.

Thank you Pleasantville for a vague but positive discussion and depiction of female masturbation. This progressive outlook in a PG-13, mainstream Hollywood movie is a rare diamond in the rough, and I therefore give it 5 out of 5 vulvas!!!


I will leave you with a joke about Leave it to Beaver - since it sort of relates...

Q: What's the dirtiest thing ever heard on Leave it to Beaver?
A: Ward, weren't you a little hard on the Beaver last night?

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