American Beauty (VHS, 2000, 2-Tape Set, Awards Edition)

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American Beauty - America through the eyes of director Sam Mendes

Mar 27, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Kevin Spacey's character depth, nude scenes, believable

Cons:Film is too hyped, it's not funny, and forgettable

The Bottom Line: If you don't heed the warning, you may be let down. Maybe.


Why am I adding this review onto such a huge heap of reviews? It doesn’t really make a difference, does it? Well it does to me! Just kidding, please be kind while rating this review. Thanks!



The Plot

The film is about a man named Lester Burnham and the events of the last year of his life. He lives in a beautiful house in the suburbs with his lovely wife and teenage daughter. He works for an advertising agency that is in the midst of downsizing, and he is asked to compose a list of his duties in order to justify his employment status. This one event sets him off in more ways than one. He finally realizes that he has been symbolically bending over for his company for all these years that he has worked for them. It also makes clear that his work life is really not much different from his home life.

His wife Carolyn is very much career-driven, probably since she is no longer attracted to her husband sexually. She ignores him sexually, but makes sure to ride him about every little nuance in his life. Lester decides to take a stand at work by not handing in his list of duties, and at home he takes a stand against his wife's nagging rituals. He also makes it clear to his daughter that he won't stand for her disrespect. Lester sounds like a pretty good guy, but he's got his own pile of psychosis too.

Lester finds himself head-over-heels infatuated with his daughter’s 16 year old friend Angela. He embarrassingly and overtly acts like a puppy in love, and he barely falls short of humping her leg like one. His daughter Jane is horrified by this, and she turns to her brand new next door neighbor, Ricky Fitts. Ricky is a successful drug dealer/student who goes to her high school. He is quiet and mysterious, and this draws Jane even closer to him. Ricky begins dealing marijuana to Lester, unbeknownst to anyone else around them.

Ricky's father, Col. Frank, is a US Marine Corp/War Veteran who runs a tight ship to say the least. He doesn't tolerate any fun in the home from his son or wife, and he demands annual pop urine tests from his son. If anyone strays from the way he wants you to live your life, you will meet the brunt of his merciless fists.

All of these ingredients of this soup will eventually bubble up to a boil which will somehow take the life of Lester Burnham.


My Thoughts

Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns) is an actor you either love or hate, yet somehow I am caught somewhere in between. His pick for roles are either hit or miss as far as I can decide. I enjoyed his portrayal of Lester Burnham. I thought his character was likeable, relatable, and once in a while – kind of funny. Even though the viewer never gets a look at the Lester Burnham who absorbs all kinds of nagging and injustices, you can still sense a lucid picture of what he was like before he began his stand against the daily grind. His character had the ability to grow and learn which is something seldom seen inside a two hour film.

Annette Bening (The American President, The Grifters) plays Carolyn, Lester’s wife and a real estate salesperson. Although I do not know anyone in life that reflects her character, I still find her relatable. I do not sense nowhere near the depth as I do with Lester, but she gives a couple of peeks into her mind. She cannot accept failure very well, no matter how trivial it may seem to others. This may also explain why she does not wish to be sexually active with her husband anymore, perhaps because she views it as a failed marriage. She is drawn to her competition, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher, The O.C., The Idolmaker) as he appears very successful.

Thora Birch (Now and Then, Ghost World) completes the Burnham family with her role as Jane. You get a sense that her character paralleled her father’s in some ways. Jane also did not realize her self-worth until Ricky Fitts moved in next door. Ricky chose Jane as the attractive one of her and her friend Angela. Angela (Mena Suvari - American Pie, American Virgin) would be the oppressor in Jane’s life as she made sure that Jane knew that while they were still friends, Angela was the very attractive one of the two (and she’s right). Angela oppresses Jane much in the same way that Carolyn would oppress Lester, and funnily enough it was the drug dealer who lives next door who somehow gives new meaning to their lives. Thora and Mena provide what seems like gratuitous nude scenes in this film, despite the time lapse only lasting mere seconds. Maybe it seems that way to me because the images are so indelibly
burned into my memory, that it just seems like they are nude on the screen for so long. It does bother me a little that Thora is only 17 years old when she showed the world her tetas, but it seems to work for the content of the movie.

Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity, The Patriot) plays Col. Frank Fitts. Col. Frank is the ultimate killjoy in this movie. I imagine that his presence in this film is to symbolize the right-wing conservative mind set of the USA. He hates drugs, homosexual sex, any kind of entertainment made after the 1950s and people in general who would even remotely ascribe to these lifestyles. The question is, do these types of people exist in “real life”? The answer is yes, but not as many as director Sam Mendes would have you believe. I’m surprised that the “Archie Bunker” character still lives on in American pop culture as much as it does since it hardly reflects any one left in the real world. Perhaps, it’s just Hollywood forcing it’s ideologies down our throats; this scenario makes more sense to me.

Do I recommend this film? I would have to say no, mostly because the film has a lot of hype associated with it. American Beauty won five Oscars, plus a slew of other rewards, and the expectation is higher than what I believe the film is capable of delivering. This film is also labeled as a ‘dark comedy’, and aside from some very slight laughs delivered from Spacey and Bening, don’t expect this film to tickle your funny bone that much at all. It does keep my interest, and it will probably keep yours as well, but it shouldn’t be hyped up to be something that it can’t touch.

Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Alan Ball
Release Date: October 1999
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Length: 122 minutes


Recommend this product? No

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