American Beauty

Good afternoon, friends. I wanted to try and go back to basics with today’s movie and watch something I’ve always heard a lot about but always seemed to miss. This hype has mainly come from my girlfriend who has, in almost three years, never failed to tell me how amazing it is. She’s never given away any plot details but has always just stuck with words like “amazing” and “incredible” or phrases like “what a movie” and “ugh, so good”. Now, generally, when someone talks about a movie like this, the chances that you’ll end up liking it can vary wildly. For instance, she never told me that Sam Mendes directed it and/or compared it to his other wonderful films, or how strangely it seems to parallel with Office Space, a movie that I love. But then again, on the other hand, we all know how it feels to love a movie, tv show, album, painting, whatever else so much that all we seem to be reduced to is simple superlatives. So, when I sat down to watch American Beauty today, I hoped upon hope that I would also end up loving it and I’m so glad that’s the case.

American Beauty stars Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham, a super disgruntled/ disillusioned/ dissatisfied dad who, at this point in his life, would do anything to regain some form of joy or wonder about the world in which he lives. His marriage with his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is at such a low point that, at the end of the movie, he calls it “a commercial” to hide the real situation that it is. And, if that wasn’t enough, Lester’s relationship with his daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is even worse as she literally hates him and everything that he is. At the start of the movie, Lester is being threatened that he’ll soon be fired from his job due to “cutbacks” which doesn’t help his disposition at all Carolyn misses yet another opportunity to sell a house, which does nothing for her’s either. Until the arrival of two key forces in the Burnhams’ lives, it doesn’t look like anything will change. Enter force number one, Jane’s best friend, Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). Jane loves talking a big game about all the dudes she’s slept with and fancies herself model. With her super promiscuous behavior, she gets the attention of Lester who is immediately lost in her, thus dramatically changing his relationship with Jane for the rest of his life. Lester and Angela play this little game back and forth where she pretends, although secretly being serious, to be into Lester and he changes everything about himself due to his newfound infatuation and self-esteem. Jane, however, couldn’t be more grossed out about what’s going on between them and finds her own solace in force number two, the arrival of the Fitts family next door. Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) is a Marine Corps Colonel who, among collecting weird Nazi paraphernalia, is a vehement homophobe and the worst thing he could ever imagine would be for his son, Ricky (Wes Bentley) to be gay. Ricky is the object of Jane’s curiosity, and she is the object of his. Angela claims he’s a “psycho” but he’s really just the misunderstood victim of a terrible parent. As everyone’s stories begin to intersect in more ways than one, all of the potential outcomes start skewing more towards the side of unfavorable, to say the least. With everyone looking for a way out, all they seem to be able to do is dig themselves deeper in.

I found this movie to be extremely compelling. With the tagline being “…look closer”, it’s hard to not examine everything as a layer for something else. I love the voyeuristic aspect to the film not just in Ricky’s case with the ever-present camera but with the entire story. It seemed like I was watching something I really wasn’t supposed to be seeing in every moment. But what’s so great about that is that what we’re “not supposed to see” is actually the truth, masked behind layer after layer of false-presentation. You wanna see the truth yet, when it’s revealed to be as ugly as it really is, you wonder what the value is of false beauty and what that says about the constantly growing facade in America of placing value on things like lust or career progression or material possessions over each other. Because we wouldn’t value those things at all if something didn’t go off course with how we value each other.

If you wanna check out American Beauty, I’d highly recommend doing so on Netflix right now. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on Leon: The Professional, thanks!

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