American Beauty, directed with such an ingenious vision and technical flair, is the ultimate midlife crisis movie. Spacey gives a great performance as forty-something Lester Burnham, an ad executive who’s sick of his job and his life. He is unhappily married to Carolyn (Benning), a neurotic real estate agent obsessed with keeping up appearances; their teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is a typical moody teenager, with a troubled relationship with her parents. Lester is the suburban every-man and stuck in rut. But everything changes when he becomes besotted with Jane’s best friend Angela (Savari), as this makes him set about revitalising his life.
I feel that American Beauty has slowly disappeared under the radar as the years have past. As an Oscar-Winner, I can imagine this film was a hot topic at the time, but you don’t tend to hear about it these days. No one really talks about it anymore. I’m not sure why because there are so many thought-provoking ideas within the film that still hold resonance today. American Beauty revolves around self-discovery and empowerment, and it explores the different forms of beauty from the eyes of its characters.
The film is very much driven by its characters, who are all living in a suburban community and we get a look into these people’s lives. But the film is so much more than a cinematic soap opera. And it doesn’t just explore a variety of themes, such as sexuality and masculinity, but it actively celebrates them in a satirical manner.
Lester’s infatuation with his daughter’s cheer-leading best friend sets the film in motion, as he immediately starts changing his life in ways that transform him into a free spirited and self-liberated person. I think it’s quite clear that the story isn’t really about Lester trying to impress a girl. It’s really all about Lester finally escaping the shallow middle-class culture that has suppressed him.
American Beauty has the right balance between comedy and poignant drama. It’ll make you laugh but you’ll want to sit back for a second and think about the film’s message. The movie doesn’t initially look like a defiance. It seems at first like an average film about American life, but director Sam Mendes presents a cynical, nightmarish view of suburban culture where everyone is searching for happiness.
However, the film is still a fun and exhilarating adventure through a small community. It’s easy to root for Lester as he’s such a sympathetic character and you can imagine yourself in his shoes.
American Beauty is an excellent film that I believe is underappreciated. I love its visual style, the characters, the story and the fact it can’t be completely categorised. It’s a riveting, exceptional piece of cinema that everyone should see. The film allows for multiple interpretations. Whether it can be described as a film about imprisonment, redemption, the hollow nature of suburban culture, or the meaning of life itself, American Beauty an all-round masterclass film.
Quoted: “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.”
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Mena Savari.
Writer: Alan Ball
Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures
Run Time: 122 min