Thursday, July 2, 2020

American Beauty 1999 - Movie Review

A beautiful Kaleidoscope of American Suburbia

I saw this award-winning gem directed by Sam Mendes (his directorial debut)  just when it released in September 1999 with absolutely no idea of what it was. It was one of those drama movies that start at the end, telling you that somebody is going to die, and then makes you wait to find out how it happens. Towards the finish, three possibilities are waved in front of you, but then the plot twists to something else. And that's what makes it a fascinating watch.

By now, most of you would have seen American Beauty already. A story of dysfunctional families in white middle-class suburbia: the main characters are the Burnham couple (Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening) who don't seem to copulate or even communicate anymore, but still share a bedroom. They have a highly insecure teenage daughter, played with aplomb by Thora Birch who believes she is an ugly misfit. Next door there are the Fitts: a right-wing militaristic father (Chris Cooper) and an emotionally dead mother (Allison Janey), whose son Ricky (Wes Bentley) has been in a mental hospital.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, the father doomed to die with such finesse, that it rightfully earned him a Best Actor award at the Oscars. One day he sees the boy next door calmy quit his job as a waiter, so he too quits his joyless job as a writer for a magazine. He starts buying marijuana from the boy next door, horrifying his straight real estate agent wife, who is obsessed with success (or the image of it). Annette Bening shows some restraint with the over-the-top character. 

Lester also becomes infatuated with his daughter's cheerleader friend (Mena Suvari), who is beautiful, but also vain, shallow and dishonest. Somebody like that can't be a real friend, so let's call them companions. Thus Lester alienates his daughter even more. The daughter becomes involved with Ricky the weirdo next door, and Mrs. Burnham starts having meetings with another real estate agent, so you have a soap opera, where any of them might have a motive for smiting poor old Lester. 

The most fascinating character is Ricky Fitts, the teenage neighbor. He looks like a bible salesman but sells drugs. He has no fear of anything, and sees beauty where others can't, videotaping everything around him. It is he and the Lolita cheerleader who give Lester lust for life again. His wife's answer to the emptiness of her life is to become more successful. She isn't going to admit what the real problem is. 

American Beauty pokes a burnt stick in the eye of the American way of life, anything from guns and fast food to drugs and materialism. Only religion seems missing from this. It feels like a major studio tried to make a commercial arthouse movie, and it actually succeeded.

American Beauty won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. American Beauty also won six of the 14 awards for which it was nominated at the
British Academy Film Awards: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress (Bening), Best Cinematography, Best Film Music and Best Editing. The Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning soundtrack score by Thomas Newman is worth highlighting too as it sets the mood for this great watch.

This scene is a highlight!


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...