Release Date: October 1, 1999
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch
Runtime: 122 min
Tagline: … look closer.
American Beauty is a depressing, but beautiful, insightful and profound look at the life of a dysfunctional suburban family; making it one of the greatest films of the 90s and 1999 (It’s hard to pick my favourite for 1999, I mean it was such a great year for films – this, The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, The Green Mile, etc.).
Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening) have it all: they’re a perfect husband and wife, have perfect jobs, have a perfect family, a perfect home, all in a perfect little suburban neighbourhood; that is, on the outside. On the inside, Lester is a depressed man who reaches a breaking point in that middle-age crisis when he becomes attracted to his daughter’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and vows to change his life – in a way to woo the heart of this young woman. All the while, the daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is trying to find out who she really is, and she is going through those usual adolescent phases. She also strikes up a kind friendship with a shy boy who documents his everyday life, Ricky (Wes Bentley) next door who lives with his headstrong homophobic military father, Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper).
American Beauty is a sophisticated, entertaining and profound analysis of the so-called American dream gone sour.
I really like this one because it has a great sense of realism, because many families try to present themselves as perfect and beautiful, but they are really rotting and extremely dysfunctional in some ways on the inside.
Each of these characters has problems, and most are played quite beautifully. Lester Burnham is very depressed, unmotivated, but often comedic, middle-aged man who learns to change his life around and start to stand up for himself more, and try to be happier with himself despite his utter lack of care for the world. He is also wonderfully and flawlessly played by Kevin Spacey who brings his great dramatic acting and sarcastic comedic delivery to his character. Carolyn Burnham is really the dictator in the Burnham family, when she’s actually home, because she is so dedicated to her career. She’s a needed character but she’s very, very irritating. She’s the most irritating when she just randomly screams to the heavens. It’s cringe-worthy. She is one of my least favourite female characters, ever. She just offers a ridiculous amount of conflict to every single situation. Annette Bening plays a really good bitch. Jane Burnham is a pretty good character. She is trying to find herself in this mixed up world and just doesn’t understand how sometimes the world of high school works. She is played fairly well by Thora Birch. Angela is an okay character. She’s extremely inappropriate and immature, and she struts her little stuff all around town and brags about all of the guys she gets together with. Mena Suvari portrays the character fairly well, not great but not too bad. Ricky Fitts is (played well by Wes Bentley) is a good character. He’s just trying to understand the world, too. He is an interesting character that has a unique view of the world. Colonel Frank Fitts is played very well by Chris Cooper, and he is a very dictatorial and homophobic character that is ultimately very interesting.
While you’re watching it, even if you’re not thoroughly enjoying it, you can tell that it’s a well- made film with a beautiful message and a great story. It is just flawlessly and originally penned by Alan Ball (creator of TV’s True Blood).
There’s one great thing about this film, even if you didn’t like it – you can say, “Hey, my life isn’t all that bad compared to these guys; my life’s gravy if I stood next to these dysfunctional people.” It’s a depressing experience, but in the end it is thought-provoking and it is a pick-me-up because you’ll probably see that your life isn’t all that horrible. Though, don’t run to this film if you’re the happiest you’ve ever been – because a lot of it is really quite poignant, not really feel-good, and often darkly humorous.
American Beauty has it all, a great cast, extremely memorable scenes; it’s sometimes funny and it has a great and sophisticated story. It is well-structured and it takes great turns and has a great narrative by Kevin Spacey when he often adds his insight in voice-over. Looking back, I can hardly think of any flaws. It’s inappropriate and very sexually suggestive, but I can’t take points off for that. While the film may not be for everyone, it is great for those of you who can appreciate it. I think it’s a film everyone should see. You may not like it by the end of it all, but it’s quite worth the check.