Watching American Beauty in a superficial type of mood makes you feel cheated, like you've just watched some badly edited porno flick, about a horny dad and his interest to fuck with his daughterís beautiful friend. Thatís what a friend and me expected when we watched it for the first time, to turn us on in a way. But if you look closer, as I did when I watched it for the second time, it really is a film about a man, who feels like his life is just dreaming away from him to never come back and sets out to recover it with style. In the meantime, weíre given an in-depth look on how much beauty there is in the world, but we don't appreciate it the way we should. As I finished watching, I really came to terms that this film deserved every Oscar it took, and all the hype that it generated, paid off in the end.I know I must be the 27th guy to review this flick, so Iíll try to explain to you what good I found in this movie. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, in one of his best roles) is just an ordinary person who lives a boring life. In fact, his life is on a downward spiral, with his days getting boring one worse than the previous one. His wife Carolyn (Annette Bening, in another great performance), whoís a selfish, control-freak type of person, dislikes him more and more and looks at him as pure window dressing. And his daughter Jane (Thora Birch in a strong role), a weird and lonely girl, hates both her parents because she feels that her parents never cared for her, and she doesn't want them near her. Jane especially thinks that her father is just some depressed loser and even thinks that someone should put him out of his misery. Lester sees himself trapped; he doesn't know what to do. His job, his family, his own life, is all a prison cell (a cool example is his face reflection on the computer screen while at work), and all the reactions of his boss and his family reinforce his strong desire to escape, somehow.
"There's so much...beauty in the world..."
At the same time the Fitts family is moving in next door. Ricky (Wes Bentley, in an interesting role), a weird and repressed teenager whose a dope dealer and lives in a strict but weird life, all thanks to his dad (Chris Cooper). Rick then starts taking an interest in Jane and vice versa, and films her all along at first while Jane is unaware. Ricky films things, according to him, to remember the beauty of life in the odd things he sees. Then one night, Lester goes to his daughterís High School in order to watch her perform in the half-time cheerleader set. Itís there where Lester meets Jane's best friend, Angela (the sexy Mena Suvari). This scene is the first of two turning points in Lester's life, he sees Angela, and starts suddenly fantasizing and developing a desire for her. Of course, if you look at this superficially, then you maybe thinking that he's probably some sick bastard whose 42 and is having adulterous feelings for an 18 year old girl. But again, if you LOOK CLOSER, you see Lester, feeling and acting like heís a new guy altogether. He finally sees amongst the clouds of his boring life, a renewed or rediscovered fountain of youth which had disappeared from him for so long. Then when Angela starts flirting about Lester about him getting in shape in order to look hotter, he takes it to heart since it give him a reason to do so and feel better about himself as he strives secretly for her. Angela has become one of the beacons of light that Lester so badly needs towards his escape from his ďprison cellĒ type of life. The first of many signs of his life turning around, first, sexually, and later, physically and psychologically.
Then at a real-estate meeting, he meets Ricky, and introduces him to pot, and also shows him that he doesn't give a shit about his job since he doesnít like it and in his view, itís better to leave a job that makes you miserable than holding on to it. He then proceeds to teach him in a way that you have to life your life to the fullest extent, and no matter how old you are. Your life can't be just work, eat, sleep. Thatís not a life, and that is precisely the prison that Lester lives, and some of us too live. You have to do things in life that you want to do, while you're alive. You donít like your job, then quit, and find another job, no big deal. And if there is something you donít like and you feel compelled to say it but canít, fuck it, just say it out loud, and let the other person deal with it, whether he likes it or not.
So what happens? By adjusting and living once again ďthe lifeĒ that was long lost by him, he causes everyone elseís life to turn upside down. Not only he makes himself get fired from his job he secretly hated so much, but also rips apart Carolynís own plastic obsessions of her job which have dug deep in her personality so much that it even affects her own personal life. This probably causes Carolyn to find a similar in type in his competitor Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) in order to start an affair. In the meantime, Jane falls in love with Ricky and he explains to her the beauty that he sees in her, and in other things an ordinary person wouldnít even think of finding it.
Ricky, along with Angela, are the key figures of telling us how much beauty is in the world, Beauty is everywhere, even in the oddest places. Like the bag thatís flying around due to the air, in which Ricky explains that there is a life behind all the things we know, a force that surrounds us and it tells us not to be afraid, and instead makes us understand the way we humans are. This beauty is a metaphoric resemblance of how our human race is naturally, and it inspires us to look at people and things, not on just how they look outside, because thatís a part we can deal with, but rather see the person on how he is really on the inside. They maybe bad on the outside, but inside they are something else. Thatís the beauty that this film explains (a good example is final scene between Angela, Ricky, Jane, and ultimately Angela and Lester).
Lester in the end wins, although not the way we thought he would, but upon reflection, we see that he freed himself from his cell, he accomplished everything heíd ever wanted, and in the end he summarizes his new life in just three words: I feel great.
This is the second film I see that examines this topic (the Elephant Man is the other one), and itís a damn good one at it thanks to the great script by Alan Ball, a well-eyed production design, beautiful cinematography by Conrad Hall, and the sure-handed direction of newcomer Sam Mendes, who made an impressive debut with this film His eye on detail is exceptional and he as well as Ball, Hall and Spacey are deserving of their Oscars they earned.In the end, this movie is one of the best films Iíve ever seen. A deserving Best Picture Oscar winner and a classic within years to come. Keep in mind the tagline ďLOOK CLOSER,Ē when you see this film, since itís the key to its message as you dispel among the clouds in order to find the beauty of this film and in life within. You just need to look closer, and youíll find it. 4.5-5
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originally posted: 02/23/01 12:32:55