- Sam Mendes
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) thinks life has nothing else to offer until he meets his beautiful daughter’s best friend Angela (Mena Suvari) and also quits his job in a rebellious new attitude. His wife Caroline (Annette Bening) is a cold real estate agent who seems to become more plastic as each day goes by, constantly clashing with him and setting her sights on her main competitor, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). Meanwhile, their confused teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) starts seeing Ricky (Wes Bentley), the strange boy next-door who lives with his ex-military father, Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), and his absent-minded mother, Barbara (Alison Janney).
Director Sam Mendes, in his feature-film debut, took the world by storm with this absolutely hilarious and gut-wrenching look at a dysfunctional suburban family written by Alan Ball. The approach they use is that of a seriocomic tone that lends itself perfectly to what they’re trying to do: a blunt satire of the American way. But beneath its witty surface lays an undercurrent of truth that is not only blatantly honest, but that also aches because of it. The screenplay deals in equal measure with adultery, voyeurism, homosexuality, repression, alienation and death, and yet it’s completely engaging and thoughtful.
The ad with which the movie was promoted urged every one of us to “look closer”. After you’ve seen it you might find it scary to do just that, because it deals with the truths we usually don’t notice, or don’t want to, about ourselves. It’s the realization that there may be things about our lives with which we’re not happy, and that it’s better to start doing something about it sooner than later. As the story unfolds, these characters develop and transcend in unexpected ways, making it an unpredictable experience that ends on a highly shocking and ironic, yet reflective, note.
After all is said and done, the movie leaves you with one uplifting and clear idea about how beauty can be found even in the most unexpected of all places. I truly loved this and couldn’t agree more. It is also perfectly conveyed in my favorite scene, one which involves a plastic bag.
It is difficult to find character-driven movies that also boast a very distinct visual style, but Mendes and legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall worked carefully to give it one which would rightly serve the tone and what they were trying to achieve with each scene. The result is nothing short of brilliant, and I use that word with all its implications. Together they created imagery that has stayed in the collective minds of people since the movie came out. Thomas Newman’s off-beat and innovative score was also crucial in helping to set the right mood and it paid off.
If all of this wasn’t enough, I also see American Beauty as one of the best-acted ensemble pieces of all time. Kevin Spacey handles his character with the right touch of likeability matched by his loser-status gone berserk, so that he becomes identifiable. His voice-over narration is spot-on. Annette Bening is totally unforgettable in her over-the-top, amazing rendering of such an extreme character. Wes Bentley gives a remarkable supporting performance, making his character one of the coolest nerds in the history of cinema. Thora Birch, Mena Suvari and Chris Cooper are also excellent. Everyone is.
This is the rare kind of movie that comes just once in a while. One of my favorites and an instant classic.
“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world... I feel like I can’t take it.”
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Other reviews of American Beauty (1999): Groucho