Archive for the ‘American Beauty’ Category

16 – American Beauty

May 11, 2000

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is an ordinary guy. He’s forty-something, has a successful job, a pretty wife, and a loving daughter. Or does he? As he examines his life, he notices there’s less and less joy in it as the years go by. He also mopes about it a lot, wondering just when it was that the living disappeared from his life. The sex has vanished from his marriage to strong-willed real-estate agent Carolyn (Annette Bening), and his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) detests him. And poor Lester’s just stumbling through his dreamlike life, trapped in suburbia, when an encounter with his daughter’s best friend Angela (Mena Suvari) wakes him out of his catatonia.

Lester can’t keep his mind off Angela, a sexpot who wants to be a model someday. Angela’s bossy, manipulative, tough, erotic, and very egocentric. She apparently keeps Jane around to make herself feel better and never tires of bragging of her own sexual exploits. Add to that personality an underage, nubile body, and Lester’s hooked. When he overhears Angela say to Jane that Lester might be goodlooking if he worked out, Lester begins to pump iron in the garage. Next thing you know, he’s smoking pot with the rebel next door (Wes Bentley), who has his own litany of psychosocial problems. And then it gets interesting!

Alan Ball’s script never lets up, and there are hardly any laggards among the actors, either. Spacey won an Academy Award for his skillful work as the demented, although not without logic, Lester. Lester’s creepy – if you had him as a next-door neighbor and knew him well enough, you’d move yourself and your family to another state. Spacey paints Lester, however, not as a single-minded psychopath, but as a reasonable, self-sufficient, logical man who simply wants to revitalize his own existence. Having seen the movie, I simply can’t picture another actor turning in this kind of performance. Spacey’s characterization is a lot like a car wreck on the turnpike – you can’t help but stop and look at it, although you feel guilty about liking what you see.

Annette Bening’s no slouch either. The role of Carolyn is a difficult one, as she must appear both together and apart mentally. Her character is amazingly multilayered – she’s not just a shallow, career-minded woman, she’s a shallow, career-minded woman with emotional problems that could choke Freud. And Thora Birch (remember her as the little kid in Patriot Games?) is magnificent as Jane, the sullen daughter. It’s not easy to capture the essence of being a teenager on film, and Birch comes closest than most.

Needless to say, the whole cast is top-notch, as is the direction. Bottom line – this is a creepy, unsettling, one-of-a-kind movie.

PROS: Electric script, dazzling performances, top-self direction.

CONS: Might be TOO unsettling for some people; there’s drug use, there’s a pedophilia theme, there’s homophobia, there’s homosexuality…. In short, there’s a lot to be offended by.

American Beauty: 9