‘American Beauty’ is one of those films that everyone talks about and recommends, but one that I simply haven’t got round to seeing. We’re all guilty of it. We all know there are certain films we should have seen that we haven’t, and this film fell right into that category for me. I didn’t have a particular expectation at all for the film (other than an abundance of rose petals of course). All I knew was that as a multiple academy award-winning film, I was well within my rights to expect great things and it excelled in every way I could possibly have hoped.
‘American Beauty’ follows the story of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a man who has become disillusioned with his life. He hates his wife, his daughter hates him and he is stuck in a monotonous job that sucks every last drop of life out of him. That is until he goes to see his daughter’s school cheerleader performance and he lays eyes upon Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), with whom he immediately becomes infatuated. As you can imagine, this obsession with his daughter’s best friend acts as a catalyst to a series of events that follow, as the lives of Lester and those around him begin to spiral towards a tragic end. The film is particularly clever in the way that it lures you into making certain conclusions about the fates of characters for ourselves, but more often than not, our assumptions are twisted in some way to keep us on our toes and to keep us guessing. I wont say anything else for fear of spoiling the surprises that lay in store for those of you that haven’t already seen it.
As I said earlier, I wasn’t sure what I was stepping into when I started watching ‘American Beauty’. I was expecting something quite dark and disturbing, and I was more under the impression that this was a twist on your classic tragic-romance. There are elements to the film that lend itself as such, but the overriding sensation I got when I was watching, was that I found this film more light hearted and satirical. There are several moments that are laugh-out loud funny as we watch Lester awkwardly manoeuvre himself through difficult situations. All of the characters have comedic qualities potentially lying under their exteriors. Annette Bening’s portrayal of Carolyn Burnham is fantastic and the on-screen relationship between her and Lester is key to the success of this film. They are the perfect comic representation of a troubled marriage, with sly comments and cynical put downs a plenty. Wes Bentley and Thora Birch’s performances, as Ricky Fitts and Jane Burnham respectively, are also worthy of note. Ricky Fitts is the ‘oddball’ next door with whom Jane Burnham ironically seeks normality. Their relationship is arguably the only one built on solid foundations amongst the madness surrounding and threatening their relationship from every direction. The outcasts that society decides have no place in the normal world, in turn become the characters that have the most obvious human qualities.
In a word, brilliant. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that ‘American Beauty’ is a near-perfect creation. It balances the dark and twisted foundations of human nature with comedic characters and performances. Kevin Spacey is a deserving winner of his Academy award, as is Sam Mendes for his ability to capture a story told a thousand times in such a unique way. The film is ridiculous in parts, but that is what makes it so brilliant. Its level of satire is what sets it apart; so much so that I don’t think this film has a definitive genre. It’s a one off, a work of genius. In a film built around lies, confusion and deception you’d only be lying to yourself if you said that this film is anything other than a triumph.
DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES
STARRING: KEVIN SPACEY, ANNETTE BENING, MENA SUVARI