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American Beauty
1999 - R - 120 Mins.
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks
Written By: Alan Ball
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Chris Cooper, Scott Bakula, Sam Robards
Review by: Carl Langley
   

Raise your hand if you've won not one, but two Oscars
"American Beauty "is stuffed to the gills with immoral values. Smoking weed, homosexuality, child abuse, sexual desires for the underage adolescent, nudity, murder, discontentment, and marital affairs all assist Lester Burnham’s story in how he turned his dejected life around and made everyone else’s a cavity. Yet, the story won Best Picture at the 2000 ceremony for its execution to find truth and profundity in a residential drama, mixed with tragic comedy.

The movie centers around Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his abrupt, drastic mid-life crisis. We know Lester is at an ultimate low from the beginning because the first scene shows him, a married man, masturbating. His voice-over narrative states, “Funny thing is, this is the high point of my day.” He also tells us, “My wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser.” Lester knows the truth. He is a dejected, sorrowful man who hates his job and is agitated to the brink by his family.

His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is a malicious woman from hell. She has been neglecting Lester for years and adoring her real estate rival, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). Every conversation ends in an argument with Lester because she views him as worthless and feeds him her usual bitterness. Lester’s daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is in rebellion. She hates her family and wants to move out as quickly as possible.

On another dreary night, Lester decides to ripen his life when he meets his daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). Both girls are cheerleaders and immediately when Lester lays eyes on Angela, flashing her dance routine in her cheerleading outfit, the lusting begins. To Lester, she is the most beautiful creature. Later, he eavesdrops a conversation between Jane and Angela. He hears her say, “Your dad is kind of cute. I would sleep with him if he had more muscle.” And so it begins. Lester begins to work out in his garage, smoke dope, and lust even more. He blackmails his boss for $60,000 and buys the 1970 Pontiac Firebird he has always desired. His fear of unemployment no longer exists; in fact, he changes jobs and works at a fast-food joint, flipping burgers. The sole purpose of Angela is not to tell a story about a statutory relationship, but rather she is a catalyst to Lester, unbinding him from the nagging pests that swarm around him day in and day out – and its brilliant.

The Burnhams are not the only dysfunctional family in "American Beauty." The Fitts are their neighbors and are intertwined into the story as well. Ricky (Wes Bentley), the son is a monolithic, eerie stoner, who enjoys videotaping “beauty.” He records Jane, who is freaked out by it at first, but eventually is turned on and they begin their unconventional affinity. Ricky’s mother (Alison Janney) is a catatonic. Ricky’s father (Chris Cooper) is a homophobic, abusive colonel. He demands a urine test from Ricky once every six months, testing him for drugs. Ricky, like Jane, gravely craves an escape from home.

All of the whacked out emotions from each character come together for a bizarre ending. "American Beauty" is filled with so much dark, twisted, and grotesque feelings and situations, that it turns comical. The intentions of sitcom writer, Alan Ball, were to add witty flavorings to the depression and loneliness, parodying American society.

"American Beauty" was Sam Mendes first feature film. Mendes has an impressive background in theater and succeeds in making the transfer from stage to cinema. He had assistance from Conrad L. Hall behind the camera. These two men should be exalted for their ability to dispense the perspicacity of each character with their camerawork. Thomas Newman’s evocative score accompanies the beautiful cinematography to create a luxurious film.

Kevin Spacey won his second Oscar for Best Actor as Lester Burnham. Imagining anybody else in this role seems impeccable. The role required many half-witted tasks and Spacey fervently attacks Lester with the wit he possesses. Annette Bening has a rich performance that requires wedding happiness and success with calamitous events at home. Thora Birch and Wes Bentley stand out in top-notch form as the teenagers and Chris Cooper, who was sadly overlook by the Academy, is magnificent as the violent-obsessed father. Every actor in "American Beauty" helps create interesting characters and feed off each other to install a fresh film.

Pinpointing a weakness was difficult, but it is hard to have a film where one does not exist. "American Beauty" came across as a film with too much lucidness. Spacey’s voice over narration spoils some events in the film. I felt "American Beauty" was exceptionally well done, but overrated with the buzz it received. I strongly disagree with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. "Being John Malkovich" and "The Sixth Sense" were far more creative and shocking. "American Beauty" did not lack originality, but instead failed to match the creativeness combined with the perplexity of its competitors that year.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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