This film gets the Fifties look so right that when I saw it people in the audience kept laughing, clearly expecting a parody, or at least yet another ironic take on the era. But the film treats both its period and its characters with loving respect. And though it has its humorous moments, it is suffused overall with a muted sense of tragedy. Julianne Moore plays one half of a model couple: husband successful, house beautiful, two kids. All this exuberantly filmed in the style of the period, including lush postcard foliage and hyper-lit interiors - which get downright surreal when they include the Fifties version of a gay bar. Because we discover early on that the husband (Dennis Quaid) is not only an alcoholic (the era overall is portrayed as pickled), but a closet case. Quaid is wonderful here, somber and guilt-ridden, almost unnaturally still. Except when he explodes.
Meanwhile, Moore' character discovers that her new 'Negro' gardener (Dennis Haysbert) hears her in a way no one else does. Already tolerantly regarded as a bleeding heart by her Hartford neighbors, she tiptoes into his world just enough to cause trouble for them both. Meanwhile, her husband continues to drink and to struggle with his sexuality.
All this proceeds almost predictably, yet with a tragic momentum, as each character lives out their own truest nature, heading inevitably towards transformation. The pace is never hurried, but the movement never stops. Todd Haynes said afterwards that he likes the 'kind of melodrama in which there are no villains." Which, with sufficient homage to the past but without undue nostalgia, is what he has made here.