Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch
I’m just going to buzz right by the Kevin Spacey issue, because this movie already exists and there’s nothing we can do about who starred in it 20 years ago. Other people made the movie, other people acted in the movie, it’s alive independent of one man, so I’m just gonna leave that scandal to the side and move on. For anyone else in there 30-somethings, American Beauty was a powerful film to stumble upon when you were a teenager and your film taste was being formed. It’s strong enough to make a very lasting impact, and it definitely did for me. And I don’t think I’m alone, I think it resonated among Gen-X/Gen-Y/Xennials because we saw our parents living what we took for meaningless existences and we promised ourselves that we wouldn’t do the same.
Lester Burnham starts every day with a nice, warm masturbation session in the shower, and it’s all downhill from there. He hates his wife Carolyn, a small-potatoes real estate agent who is obsessed with image. He hates his job, working at a magazine for bosses he can’t stand. And he is hated by his daughter, an only child teenager named Jane. Lester can’t remember when he started dreading facing every, miserable day, but he knows that once he was happy, once upon a time. When his life hits rock bottom and he realizes that he needs to start living for his own contentment before his own, inevitable death, his eyes are opened to the possibilities around him and the chances he has to say exactly what’s on his mind to anyone who might cross his path.
This is Sam Mendes’ first film, which is almost unbelievable. The guy who wrote it, Alan Ball, has only ever done terrible television otherwise, so you gotta believe that Mendes had a heavy hand over this plot. American Beauty was nominated for eight Academy Awards (Best Actress, Best Editing, Best Original Score), winning five (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography), and without looking back and comparing every category, I’m sure it deserved every one. It’s a phenomenal and very personal expose on the fallacies of happiness, of hidden desires that we never expose and so let eat us alive from the inside. There’s so much being said in every scene that it quite literally blew my young mind, and it continues to impress as I watch it as an adult. The cast is incredible, so varied, but so strong: Spacey, Bening, Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Allison Janney, Peter Gallagher, Scott Bakula, John Cho. The only real weak point is Birch, who I cringe watching now that I look with a more critical eye. The music though, the mood, the messages, melodrama that is far too close to reality for comfort; this is a movie that has the power to move you in a direction you never thought you would go, and that’s the mark of something truly original and awesomely inspiring.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆