Review written by: Alex Sandell
Now, THIS is why I want to work
What's the story?
Lester Burnham's (Kevin Spacey) life is a mess. He can't stand his job. His wife (Annette Bening) is more interested in clipping the hedges than she is with making love to him. His daughter (Thora Birch) is saving up all her money for breast augmentation (when you eventually see her breasts, you'll realize that this would be the most unneeded augmentation in the history of unneeded augmentations) and thinks he's a "loser." The high point of his day is masturbating in the shower before work, and he's going to die in less than a year. What would you do in a situation like that? Lester blackmails his boss, quits his high-paying advertising job, becomes infatuated with his daughter's slutty teenage friend (Mena Suvari), starts buying really expensive marijuana (it was at this point that a person in the row behind me yelled out to his friends, "dudes - this is the best movie I ever saw!") from his voyeuristic new neighbor, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), and applies for a job as a burger flipper. And this is all just for starters. When Lester goes all out, Lester really goes all out. Are there consequences to his actions? If so, are they good or are they bad? Will this movie bomb like all the other movies I really loved this year (Election, The Iron Giant)? Only time will tell.
So how is it? (Get to the point, already)
American Beauty is a dark comedy with beautiful streaks of light shining through the celluloid. Terrifying moments become uplifting in the blink of an eye. And there's so much to see in this movie that, with every blink, you'll miss something amazing. Something poignant. Something timeless.
The cinematography by Conrad L. Hall combined with the directing style of first-time director, Sam Mendes, rivals the best of directing greats Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Atom Egoyan. The film visually envelops the audience in a way few have. There are images that will be with you forever. Some are subtle; some are startling. All are unforgettable.
First-time screenwriter Alan Ball also had a big hand in turning this into a modern movie masterpiece. His script, and the characters that inhabit it, ring true on every level. Revelations are made about many of the main characters throughout the film; some so honest, they'll bring tears to your eyes. You've met these people. You've just never had the chance to look inside of them; you've never been able to open up their minds to see what makes them tick. What you find, through watching this movie, will give you pause and alter the course of your own individual "reality."
Rather than tell us, like most cynical, satirical, darkly humorous type films so often do, that behind every smiling face there's a gigantic asshole, American Beauty tells us that behind every gigantic asshole, there's a genuinely nice person with a smiling face. At the same time, the film has no chipper illusions about the human race, and what a bunch of bastards we are, and it definitely gives us an eyeful of the prick that resides in all of us. What it comes down to is what we've known all along . . . people are conflicted. We spend our entire lives battling between doing what we know is right, or deluding ourselves into acting in ways that we know are wrong.
I think the question American Beauty poses is, "how would each of you act if someone pulled you out in front of the world and called you on your shit?" This is a question that is rarely answered, being that humans tend to live the majority of their lives in some form of denial. Most of us tend to turn away when someone puts a mirror up in front of our faces. We don't want to admit that we've strayed from the path that we had originally chosen; we don't want to know that our peers can see past the pleasant facade we put on, and into the abysmal self-betrayal we thought we had hidden deep within ourselves a long time ago. This small treasure of a film from Dreamworks will make you feel exposed. It goes straight for the throat and doesn't let go. American Beauty is a movie that will strike a chord so true with each of its viewers, that no one will ever look at their lives quite the same, ever again. Be prepared.
What does it make you feel like eating?
That one girl's breasts; augmented, or not.
What are you selling us here???
The American Dream as bullshit.
If it won an Oscar, what would it be?
"Best Director; best actor; best supporting actor; best cinematography (sorry, 'best picture' and 'best screenplay' still goes to 'The Iron Giant')" - American Beauty
On a scale of 1-10?
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Text ©(Copyright) 1999 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. If you copy this, without my permission, I'll raise that almighty mirror up in front of your deluded face!
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