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American Beauty (1999)

November 12, 2009

10/10 Awesome Dads

One hell of a debut effort by director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball. Also happens to be my good buddy Fred’s favorite movie of all time.

Good choice, Fred.

American Beauty is about Lester Burnham, a guy going through a mid-life crisis thanks to the “good job” he hates, the “good marriage” that failed a long time ago, the estranged relationship he has with his daughter that he sees every day but hardly even knows, and the facade of a “good life” he grudgingly maintains in suburban America for the sake of everyone but himself. Then one day he meets his next-door neighbor – a dope-dealing classmate of his daughter – who teaches Lester by example that life is too short to just sit back and accept the way things are. Lester listens, Lester abides, and so begins the story of the most entertaining and profound mid-life crisis I’ve ever seen put to film.

While I’m on the subject, I’m just gonna go ahead and get my Lester Burnham/Kevin Spacey rant out of the way, mainly because he’s a big reason this movie got a 10.

Alright, here it goes…

Lester Burnham is the man. Arguably one of the top three movie protagonists…ever. Part of that is because he’s played by Kevin Spacey, who also happens to be the man and one of the best working actors out there today (now if only he’d take better roles). It helps that Burnham’s such a well-written character to begin with, but it’s not often in movies that you see an actor really become the character he’s playing. The reason the change from Lester the Buzzkill to Lester the Hero is so effective is because Spacey is just so damn believable and invested as he sticks up a big ol’ middle finger to the life he can’t stand and punches it square in the kisser as he passes it by with an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

It’s an amazing display of character development, it’s an amazing display of life in general.

But everyone else is  great, too. Annette Bening is fantastic as Lester’s wife, Carolyn, the one person in the family who seems to relish in their superficial existence and has no idea how to cope with her husband’s sudden disdain for it. She’s a great counterpoint to Lester’s whole mindset and Bening does a great job of making her feel both trapped and

Thora Birch (where’d she go?) is good as Lester’s daughter, Jane. Mena Suvari (probably hiding out with Thora) is good as Jane’s best friend/Lester’s lust interest. I thought Wes Bentley (who has since taken up a campaign to destroy his own career from the inside out with big roles in Ghost Rider and P2) was really good as the terribly odd, yet terribly fascinating Ricky Fitts, Jane’s main squeeze and Lester’s weed pusher/personal idol next door. And Chris Cooper and Allison Janney are also awesome in their own disturbing ways as Ricky’s parents.

Probably could have just left that at “everyone else is great, too,” but hey, good casts like this deserve their props.

And like I said, what an amazing script by Alan Ball. Sam Mendes might be the reason this movie looks so damn good, but the brilliant characters, the wonderful dialogue, and the way this thing goes from great scene to great scene to great scene goes right back to Ball. We’ve all got our favorite moments, and that’s ’cause there’s a lot of ’em here.

The plastic bag dancing in the wind.

Lester blackmailing his boss.

Lester chucking the asparagus and changing the music.

Lester working the drive-thru window.

Carolyn belting out “Don’t Rain On My Parade” right before she’s pulls into her driveway.

Just so many great scenes here thanks to a perfect little partnership between Mendes and Ball. Those guys should really get back together.

What more can I say about American Beauty. Best movie of 2000, deserved the freakin’ slew of awards it got that year, and it’s the best thing Sam Mendes has done for the world. Still the most insightful and eye-opening behind-closed-doors look into suburban life, and I’ll be damned if that statement ever changes.

…And the scene where Lester goes off on Carolyn after she stops his advances because he’s about to spill beer on their couch – one of my favorite scenes of all time.

“This isn’t life, it’s just stuff! And it’s become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.”

Fuckin’-A, Lester. Fuckin’-A.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2009 2:08 pm

    my favourite bit of American Beauty is when Spacey goes running to The Who song The Seeker near the end – crackin tune

    • November 12, 2009 3:06 pm

      Dude, one of the best songs of all time! Awesome scene, awesome choice.

  2. Branden permalink
    November 12, 2009 2:34 pm

    This must be your first time watching this movie. I have watched the movie a couple of times over the years. I think the movie lost its luster. This was a movie that busted the dysfunctional family dynamics wide open. There have been plenty of those movies released since “American Beauty” was released.

    • November 12, 2009 3:06 pm

      Seen this a handful of times and still stand by my statement. Very interested to hear your list though.

    • Darren permalink
      November 14, 2009 12:31 pm

      I’ll concede there have been a lot of copycats, but I don’t think any movie since has just done the concept half as well as this little vehicle, which contains enough humour to just about stop you from slipping into depression after it (see Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road for an example where the dysfunctional family thing is just played straight without the humour – I think the film was too lifeless and depressing for its own good).

      • November 14, 2009 2:38 pm

        Totally agree with you about Revolutionary Road. Review it a while back, wasn’t impressed. Too melodramatic, felt like I was watching a soap opera. Everything it had to say about mid-life crises and suburban America was already said better in American Beauty. Not really sure why Mendes even did that movie. One of history’s mysteries.

  3. Audrey permalink
    November 12, 2009 6:36 pm

    “I… don’t have to listen to you… any…more.”

  4. November 12, 2009 9:17 pm

    Couldn’t agree anymore. Such a great movie, that really is “beauty”.

  5. Marc permalink
    November 13, 2009 2:06 am

    At first I hated this movie, mainly because I was pissed that it snubbed ‘The Sixth Sense’ at the Oscars. But after 10 years, this move stands up pretty well, gets better with every viewing and Spacey (who consistently rocks btw) just makes this movie.

    Woah! Careful where you throw those 10/10’s Aiden…pity ‘Leon’ could get the same love:P…but in this case I’d say you were right on the money. Good review man!

  6. November 13, 2009 9:31 pm

    Good review ma, and I completely agree, I loved the movie the first time I watched it and only recently returned to it earlier this year. I was surprised by the amount of backlash that had cropped up against the film and went into my second viewing expecting to see some of “massive problems” that so many others kept telling me about. But nope, it was just as good this year as it was when I first saw it.

  7. November 19, 2009 5:33 pm

    A few of my friends think its pretentious (I LOVE it and often mock them for their rancid taste in film) so what would you say to that?

    • November 19, 2009 5:41 pm

      I’d probably say exactly what you would say, they’re fucking crazy. American Beauty’s the bomb. Simple as that.

  8. May 20, 2010 11:57 pm

    Just any scene with Annette Bening going crazy rocked. When she has her fit after not selling the house. Whenever she slaps her daughter. When she grabs the shirts at the end.

    • May 21, 2010 8:45 am

      I love when she starts flipping out right before he chucks the asparagus. Man, everyone’s great in this.

  9. Pabs permalink
    June 23, 2010 2:32 pm

    This movie has so many incredible one liners… three of my favorites are:

    1. “Oh, don’t worry, I wouldn’t remember me either.” ~Lester to the King of Real Estate at the holiday work party.

    2. “Jane, that’s like almost a mile.” ~Angela to Jane after she decides to walk home with Ricky Fitts from school.

    3. “I don’t think you’d fit in here.” ~The fast food worker interviewing Lester for a job.

  10. February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

    My favourite movie of all time. Great review.


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