AMERICAN BEAUTY, 1999
Lester Burnham, a middle-age husband and father living a typical suburban life, finally comes to terms with his pathetic inexistence. After meeting his daughter’s beautiful young friend, Angela and getting to know the inspiring teenage neighbour, Ricky, Lester’s senses begin to revive. Life is brought back to him and he’s never appreciated it as much as he does now. Lester’s life begins right before he dies and so he shares with us his “American Beauty”.
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There are certain films that leave a mark in the industry that stand for new beginnings and “American Beauty” is one of them. “American Beauty” was Sam Mendes’s first feature film. His previous experiences have been in the realms of English theatre, where he has been a huge success and has acclaimed an impressive amount awards. It is clear that his talents are not limited in just theatre but lucky for us in film too. “American Beauty” was a huge success and it won five Oscars in 2000 including “Best Picture” and “Best Direction”, which is an outstanding achievement for Mendes as the film was his debut in feature film-making. The script was written by Alan Ball, a writer most well-known for his writing in television. His latest work can be seen in the successful series “True Blood”. Alan Ball also won the Oscar, “Best Original Screenplay” for “American Beauty”.
Lester (Spacey) is married to Carolyn (Bening) and father of seventeen year-old Jane (Birch). Lester has been working for the same company for fourteen years, not the most intriguing of jobs but as a result of an endless comatose routine, he still shows up everyday. The company’s come to the point where it’s decided to downsize and so Lester’s job is at risk. Lester couldn’t seem to care less and decides to sabotage any chance he has to stay. Lester’s world is brought back to him when he meets his daughter’s friend Angela (Suvari). She becomes his only reason for continuing to endure his pitiful life, day in and day out.
While Lester eaves-drops outside his daughter’s room he hears Angela saying to Jane that she finds her Dad attractive and that all he really needs to do is to work-out a little. Lester decides to make some changes he heads to his garage where he searches for his weights that have clearly been buried away for a very long time. Lester also finds strength and hope in the new, next-door, neighbours, son Ricky (Bentely).
Carolyn (Bening) is Lester’s estranged wife. Although they’re still together it’s clear that their love deteriorated a long time ago. The most important thing to Carolyn however, is to portray an image of perfection despite the fact that behind doors their family has fallen apart. Carolyn is the master of all as she magically covers up the hate and unhappiness that she carries within herself. Carolyn is an estate agent, which is pretty much the only thing going in her life, although she has yet to be as successful as her rival Buddy (Gallagher) whom she idolises and eventually starts to have an affair with.
Jane is a typical teenager dealing with angst and insecurity that every person her age endures. Although it doesn’t help that her parents are crazy and are too self-absorbed in their own lives to think about how she’s doing. Angela is Jane’s high-school friend who buries her insecurities by playing her good-looks against the not-so-good-looking and pretending to be sexually active, and wisely experienced beyond her age. Lester is the only one convinced by this beautiful goddess that she pretends to be. Jane’s beauty is realised by her infatuated neighbour Ricky and she ends up receiving the true love and admiration to which Angela deeply longs for. Ricky opens Jane and Lester’s world by showing them the beauty in absolutely everything. He becomes an inspiration especially to Lester. However in Ricky’s home he is merely seen as a failure from his ignorant, homophobic, Marine Corps, father (Cooper). His mother (Janney) is a living ghost as result of her husband having sucked all life from her. Ricky finds solace and beauty in everything but his own home.
“American Beauty” is a perfect example where love, life, belief, and beauty all intertwine with one another. At the beginning of the film we find out that the main character, Lester is going to die. This film is obviously not the type of film structured with a build up to an unexpected ending. It becomes a “who done it?” mystery, which unravels through the events and interactions among the stories characters. The films about change, fear, love, and life, a moment is captured and realised in Lester’s world, a moment where you know that if you died then and there it would be okay. This film has so many assets to it that help contribute to its absolute success. The cast involved are amazing, especially Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, and Chris Cooper. Alan Ball had a wonderful, innovative story to tell and with Sam Mendes’s fresh and bold vision this extraordinary was told. If you haven’t seen “American Beauty” yet then you’re missing out on one of the best US films in the last decade.