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American Beauty
Drama, Romance
IMDB rating:
Sam Mendes
Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham
Annette Bening as Carolyn Burnham
Thora Birch as Jane Burnham
Wes Bentley as Ricky Fitts
Mena Suvari as Angela Hayes
Chris Cooper as Col. Frank Fitts, USMC
Peter Gallagher as Buddy Kane
Allison Janney as Barbara Fitts
Scott Bakula as Jim Olmeyer
Sam Robards as Jim Berkley
Barry Del Sherman as Brad Dupree
Ara Celi as Sale House Woman #1
John Cho as Sale House Man #1
Fort Atkinson as Sale House Man #2
Storyline: Lester and Carolyn Burnham are, on the outside, a perfect husband and wife in a perfect house in a perfect neighborhood. But inside, Lester is slipping deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression. He finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter's friends. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is developing a happy friendship with a shy boy-next-door named Ricky, who lives with an abusive father.
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A movie that makes you think
This is truly an excellent movie. However I can see why some people do not enjoy nor like this movie, this is by no means the kind of movie you grab some pop corn and drink then watch through it. This is a movie that requires you to concentrate on every scene, and think about the meanings behind them. That is what makes this movie great.

Unlike most movies in nowdays, there is no hero, there is no running chasing blowing things up to give the audiences adrenaline rush. This is a drama that will make you re-evaluable your life with respect to your culture, every protocol we know in life versus our desire to seek happiness. It is a movie that in a very realistically subconscious way depict our modern lives.

I will not go in much detail here to spoil the movie, if you have not seen this movie, see it. I cannot guarantee that you will like it, but I can assure that if you think about what the movie is trying to say, you will have a happier life :)
Sam Mendes' big screen directorial debut will one day be mentioned along with classic greats like Psycho, Vertigo, 2001 and Sunset Blvd., which it cleverly mimics in a certain way. That way, I won't ruin it, if like me, you stayed away from all reviews and talk about American Beauty until you actually saw the movie. To my surprise, I somewhat succeeded. The script, wonderfully written by Alan Ball, who like Mendes is doing his first try in this certain ball park, and hitting a home run. Sorry for the cheesy analogy, but I may talk like that through out this review because this is the kind of movie where words can do no justice and it's almost impossible to translate your feelings into words. A similar experience happened to me earlier this year with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. But back to American Beauty.

"When You've Got Nothing To Lose, You Might As Well Risk Everything."~Tagline for this film.

That is probably one of the most accurate taglines I've ever read in my life. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, in what may be the best role of his career, which used to be Swimming With Sharks) is reaching his mid-fourties. Uh-oh, mid-life crisis time, he rarely ever talks to his daughter (Thora Birch) whose feelings for him, border on hate. He and his wife Carolyn, (Annette Benning, being able to make me forget about In Dreams) constantly bicker and the whole Burnham family quietly sit at the dinner table except for the occasional quibble about this or that, for instance ("Mom, why do we have to listen to this elevator music?") The new next door neighbors, the Fitts, move in one day. Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper, giving one of the finest supporting character performances this year), is a hard-core Army officer. (Every six months, he makes his son Ricky take a urine test to make sure he's not on drugs.) His idea of fun is sitting in front of the t.v. at night with his wife (Allison Janney) watching shows of Army Cadets training. Ricky Fitts is a hopeless optimistic. He is what Dawson (from the Creek) wishes he could be. Ricky walks around everywhere with his hand held camcorder (while selling dope of the side) filming all the beauty in the world. ("Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world that it overwhelms me and my heart feels like it's going to cave in). He finds a new subject to add to his beauty collection of film. Lester's daughter, Janey. At first she doesn't like his new interest in her and thinks he's weird, but as the film progresses, they get to know each other and she starts to understand Ricky, and instead of thinking he's weird, thinking he's special. Special in being able to find beauty in the most minor and trivial things you can think of. ("Would you like to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?" That turns out to be a 15 minute shot of a plastic bag flying in the wind, right before it snows.) One night, Carolyn, in an effort to help Lester save his relationship with Janey, (although, it could be her trying to save her own relationship with her daughter) makes Lester go with her to a basketball game at Janey's high school, where she cheerleads. Lester meets Janey's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari, in an interesting turn from Choir Girl in American Pie). Angela sets something off inside Lester and wakes him up from his 20 year sleep and makes him start changing and living life to the fullest. ("I feel like I've been in a coma for the past 20 years and am just beginning to wake up). Although this is work of an ensemble cast, this is really Spacey's forum. The acting throughout this film is remarkable. Newcomer Wes Bently was excellent as the outcast Ricky, who came off as shy, yet confident. The cinematography in this film is majestically beautiful, in every frame, it's almost as if you're invited right into the scene. For instance, in one scene when Spacey came home from a cocktail party with Benning, he was in the refrigerator getting a root beer and out popped Suvari, I was so entranced into that scene, that I actually felt Spacey's startle when he saw her. This movie could be categorized as a drama, although throughout the movie, I had a smile on my face. I got to know these characters, almost as if, as friends. In a gossipy kind of way, I couldn't wait to see what happened next because this film was a look behind the scenes of real suburban life. These people portrayed, really do exist in the world. Somewhat like the people in Happiness, the people and what they do are just like things families you know do, or even your family does. The last scene of this film is amazing. Although it starts too early, way before it's ready to, it pays off at the end. With tensions building, and emotions rising, the inevitable climax will leave you breathless while making you wish it wouldn't happen and that somehow it would change. There is so much more to say about this movie, and so much left out, but I can't help it. Sam Mendes' American Beauty is an instant masterpiece, as Lester says in the movie, "You have no idea what i'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry..... You will someday." I believe those are words to live by for explaining the brilliance of this film even though critics and audiences love it now, it won't truly be appreciated until after it's time.

The zenith of self-consciously pseudo-profound inanity!
Someone put it best in one of the reviews I read earlier: This movie is exactly the result of people trying to make a so-called art movie and still win the best picture oscar. American Beauty shamelessly trots out every imaginable convention of what an art movie is and then glosses it over with cute shooting, a relatively short run time and face pace. It says virtually nothing about any of the supposedly unusual or profound content that ostensibly is its subject matter. Apparently issues of would-be gravity making cameo apperaances constitutes a profound social comment. It is a great jumble of clichés (spoilers here maybe): The neurotic wife, the homophobic army man (That he turns out to be gay is not of any consequence since anything serious is not given attention in the film, it is a cute afterthought. Though it would be a serious point if this movie had anything to do with reality)The white collar dick with a mid-life crisis, the artist who sees beauty where no one else can, the pretending promiscuous cheerleader. Are there any characters that aren't stock? I cant believe anyone commented that this is in any way realistic. This is not a portrayal of of American life. In reality the teenager with an abusive psychotic homicidal father does not have 40,000$ and cannot conveniently run away to his friends in NYC. The middle-aged man unjustly fired from his job does not conveniently have information he can use to blackmail his bosses for 60,000$ and live happily ever after. Living in a duplex as a teenager is nothing resembling duress; that would be living on less that one U.S. dollar a day as millions of people do. This could easily qualify as propaganda: When you are rich you dont have to worry, your problem is only that you are not looking "beneath the surface" to see the true hedonistic beauty that life is really made of. Well I agree that this beauty does exist. Unfortunately though I am going to burst the bubble of one of the supposedly most profound scenes in the movie: The plastic bag. Look closer, they say, and you will see the beauty in reality. Yes! but this is not reality! Plastic Bags do not blow in circles for 15 minutes. That scene could practically never have occurred in nature; Im sorry I did look closer and it was so obviously being manipulated off camera that it was absurd. That sums up the movie fairly: Look at what we call beauty, we say it is natural but we are really manipulating it. If wind machines (or whatever they are technically called) are really the wind then this movie is really based in reality. Sam Mendes and Alan (whatever his last name is, the writer) are daring the viewer to be as dumb and gullible as they hope they can be. And to my amazement they succeed. If we throw together a whole bunch of artistic clichés and it doesnt make sense to you then you are dumb. Anyone who has a modicum of sanity and any concept of criticism has seen this movie as the charade it is and I stand firmly in their camp. I literally exclaimed out loud (though I was by myself) "What the F**k??!!" at the beginning when Kevin Spacey says "In a way I am already dying (paraphrased)". It is the zenith of self-consciously pseudo-profound inanity.

Disclaimer for the inflammatory nature of this post: This is really just intended to be a rant as I am insensed at how many people cant see this movie for what it really is. I am not trying to analyze this movie in a deliberate or cogent way. If any wants me to argue more clearly then email me. And you will get a more thoughtful earful than this.
The best film of the 90's
From the start of Sam Mendes' film we are aware of the ending. It still comes as a bittersweet surprise. The film opens with a shot of the protagonist's street and eventually into his house. The protagonist is Lester Burnham played by an incredible Kevin Spacey. In these opening shots we see his wife and her co-ordinated garden and footwear and their "better homes"esque house. From this it sounds like a glorification of the American dream.

The truth is the complete opposite as it smashes it. The opening song is entitled "Dead Already" from the films' apt soundtrack. Lester's groggy state is changed drastically when he first sees his daughter's ethereal friend Angela. He subsequently becomes infatuated with her.

The film is so great because it presents so many different themes which intertwine like the plot of a Tarantino film. The themes represent all the characters as neither heroes nor villains but victims of society and excessive materialism. It is a darkly hilarious satire which clearly has taken inspiration from George Orwell's novel "1984" and David Lynch's 1986 film "Blue Velvet". The cinematography by the masterful veteran Conrad Hall contains some of the most beautiful (it's thrown in on purpose) use of colour in film. It massively juxtaposes the brilliant yet unnerving reality of Alan Ball's witty and bleak script.

Lester goes on a journey to rediscover himself and subsequently leaves his job as an advertising executive and applies for a job in fast food. He begins a strict work-out regime (apart from occasionally smoking drugs). He also buys his childhood dream car. He continues with this adolescent demeanor until he eventually appeals enough to Angela.

Now this is where the film could have ended poorly, of course I won't ruin it for you. All that can be said is that the whole film is an exploration into the definition of beauty in our current society which is eventually found by Lester.

The characters are treated with delicacy as the story revolves around them all searching for something intangible. The film is so effective as a satire because it neither supports nor condemns any of the characters. It presents them and their lives objectively. In many ways Lester's representation is similar to Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" (1976). Inasmuch as both films contain a character study not analysis and leave enough ambiguity to morally agree or disagree with both characters.

In a nutshell "American Beauty" is the best movie of the 90's and the best of Spacey's illustrious career. Need I say more!
Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendez at their Best
I think that it's safe to say that American Beauty and M. Night Shyamalan's supernatural-thriller The Sixth Sense were definity the sleeper hits of 1999.

Here Kevin Spacey shows the amazing form that he's been showing for the last ten years, in films like The Life of David Gale, K-PAX, Pay it Forward, L.A. Conifedencial and Swimming With Sharks. It's also funny that this is called an American Classic when the director, Sam Mendez (Road to Perdition), is in fact English.

Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, a loser who hates his wife (Annette Benning- The Grifters, Mars Attacks) and whose daughter (Thora Birch- Patroit Games, Ghost World) hates him, whose life changes when he black mails his boss, falls for his daughters best friend (Mena Suvari- Atomic Train, American Pie 1 & 2, The Musketeer) and is introduced to the world of drugs by his neighbour (Wes Bentley).

I know wrote in a previous review that I see "To End All Wars as better film-making triumph" and I still stand by that, but you just can't help but to be drawn in to this wonderful movie by the amazing Academy Award winning combination of Alan Ball's screenplay, Mendez's direction and Spacey performance.
One of my Top Three Favorite Movies
This movie is easily in my top three favorite movie list. Why?

-It is a phenomenally casted dark comedy (my favorite genre). -Excellent cinematography. -It's a movie that makes you really think about you and other people's lives.. It encourages you to..Look Closer.

-Oh, and Kevin Spacey is phenomenal, per usual.
It grows and grows
I didn't think that much of this movie the first time I saw it. But certain images just stuck in my head.

I saw it a second time and I really saw it for the first time, an amazing movie. I just watched it for a third time and it just grows and grows.

The story is so simple and short. Yet it has the enjoyment, the journey of a major novel. I personally hate chick-flicks, am more the action-adventure type. But there isn't a boring moment in what is really casually paced.

The cinematography and the acting is so well done as to become invisible, just captivating. One of the few films where I never thought of any of the actors being "them" playing a part. They are so real.

A beautiful journey into a world so foreign, yet so familiar to our deepest thoughts.
Petty and Uncreative
Without a doubt, American Beauty is the most overrated movie I have seen. For those of you who have read Joan Didion, this script smacks of Play It As It Lays.

What happens when a "typical" suburban professional male realizes his dissatisfaction with his life? He reacts in an insubstantial and unconvincing way. My job stinks - quit my job. I have trouble communicating with my daughter - smoke dope. My wife is distant and cold - fantasize about another woman. And so on. Yes, it is Mar-eye-ah cracking a boiled egg on the steering wheel all over again (Didion reference).

Here's the question I really wanted this movie to explore: if, at midlife, Lester really feels that his life is not what he expected, where does he want it to go, what will he do about it, and can he get away with it.

Sorry, but get religion, join the French Foreign Legion, or start a home-based business. If you're life is a joke Lester, don't make it worse by becoming a cliche.
A Nightmare in Suburbia
In the footsteps of David Lynch, this film explores the nightmare underbelly of suburbia USA, when ordinary people try to be extraordinary. With dire results. Beautifully crafted, and with a definitive performance by Kevin Spacey, ably supported by a great cast, this is a standout film. A man in middle age crisis, feeling himself to be a loser in every respect, becomes infatuated with a young girl friend of his daughter. Revives his zest for living, but complications include a homophobic neighbor, with a weird son; his wife having a relationship with the Real Estate King, and his daughter becoming involved with the weirdo next door. An explosive and unexpected finish makes this a film to remember.
A beautiful film
American Beauty is the epitome of perfect emotional cinema. It boasts great direction, screen writing and performances all round, making it, in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made.

The story follows Lester Burnham, a man who seems to have lost all hope in life, as he is stuck in a joyless marriage and has trouble connecting with his teenage daughter. This all changes when he meets Angela, his daughter's best friend. From then on, Lester decides to take back control of his life. The question is, how will it affect those around him?

Kevin Spacey gives a career defining performance and once again nails it as Lester, a man so fed up with life that he needed a radical change. The evolution of the character is done to perfection and Spacey's Oscar winning work is the proof. All other actors do their parts in great fashion as well and make the movie even better. With inspired performances like these, the film only gets better with a magical combination of Alan Ball's script and Sam Mendes' debut as a cinematic director. Among other things I love about this film, I can't go on without mentioning the heart wrenching soundtrack that pulls out a wallop of emotions.

American Beauty is a wonderful, yet ultimately tragic tale of how people can hide their true selves. However they choose to change, one thing is certain: it will affect everything in the status quo. Lester's story is the example of that and it is one that I will heartedly support every time I watch this movie.

Rating: 10/10
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