American BeautyReviewed By Laura Kyle
Posted 11/17/05 08:52:27
I'm not sure why I'm bothering to spend time with this movie via a review. Nothing new can be said about the dropdead masterpiece that nicely wrapped up the 90's...but I'll give it a go.American Beauty is a disturbing film. However, its shock factor doesn't come from supposedly "taboo" subjects, but in actuality, from how CLOSE its audience was (and still is!) to them.
Sam Mendes' stunning directorial debut (on the big screen at least) is a piece of art that pretty much defined American suburbia, probably against its own will, in 1999, and last time I checked, it's still seriously relevant. And that's just one of the dozens of reasons the film had such an enormous impact on everyone from Joe Smith Moviegoer to the voters over at the Academy.
Writer Alan Ball is at home on television -- American Beauty was his first crack at a screenplay and he followed that up with the wonderful HBO series "Six Feet Under" (one of my all-time favorite shows). So, clearly the guy's extremely talented at crafting drama -- as evidence in his success in TV specifically. This is probably why American Beauty has a semi-episodic feel to it: viewers are treated to more than four intriguing storylines that don't truly meet up until the knockout ending. And yet, it's nothing to get even remotely disoriented about.
American Beauty glides by effortlessly, Kevin Spacey's voiceover narration bookending the film so perfectly. That's because Ball is able to juggle the more intricate plot elements with a real knack for subtle storytelling -- consistently proving the old adage "less is more." (Thomas Newman's beautiful score doesn't hurt either.) He's an astute observer of humanity and to some audience members, he may know them a little too well for their comfort.
You may disapprove of Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham lusting after his daughter's best friend, but you understand his attraction to such an object of desire, played by Mena Suvari, who also symbolizes youth... life. And as neurotic as Annette Benning's Carolyn is, are her struggles as a wife and mother trying to keep every meticulous detail in line, every flower properly trimmed, for all the neighbors to see, not scarily relatable?
My family's a thousand degrees more functional than the Burnham's, sure, but when watching American Beauty, you almost get the feeling like you're watching people you know act on their true desires...like a daydream.
American Beauty was truly a freshman effort -- it was Mendes' first stab at filmmaking too. And the end product is simply remarkable, just as fresh to its audience as the moviemaking process probably was to its creators.
American Beauty is probably the most hypnotizing flick I've ever watched. From the first to the last frame, I was hooked. And not just on the thoroughly entertaining, mischievous plot... after all, that becomes fairly secondary when you're watching a movie for the fifth time, you know.
American Beauty is just a joy to watch, on every single level. There are so many things to grab you, no matter what your sensibilities.
The superb imagery (partly made possible by veteran cinematographer Conrad Hall), the awesome performances by each and every castmember (I don't think it's possible to wipe the Burnham family or the other characters from one's memory), the daring subject matter, the wicked humor, the careful, warm treatment of the flawed characters...it comes from every angle, hits every front, all the senses.
American Beauty was just boiling beneath the surface for quite a while, ready to erupt and hit theaters in a big way. Its themes were toyed with before, but they never came to fruition in the way they did in this unusual family drama/satire, whatever you want to call it.If a movie is capable of taking your breath away, well, that's just what American Beauty does.
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