American Beauty (1999)
starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, and Thora Birch
directed by Sam Mendes
written by Alan Ball
For a variety of reasons, American Beauty might just be one of the most beautifully tragic movie ever made. There is something so raw about this 1999 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, that makes it stirring and powerful whether it’s your first time watching, or your fifteenth. The story is that of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged man facing the monotony of his suburban existence, between his drab job, his ‘perfect’ wife (Annette Benning), and his rebelliously reclusive teenage daughter (Thora Birch). One day, Burnham finally snaps, finding the courage to break the cycle of boredom that has plagued him. He quits his job, to spend his time flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant and smoking pot in his garage as he lifts weights. Lester becomes an atypical hero against the exasperating suburban ideals, a protagonist worth rooting for. Spacey’s character is fantastically dynamic, a man whose revitalized sense of self is as heart-breaking as it is inspiring. The supporting cast of Benning and Birch, as well as intricate performances by Chris Cooper, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari, create the weary image of Spacey’s surroundings fully and with subtle, yet vivacious, emotional presence. Mendes’ direction is aesthetically masterful, utilizing light and space to say the things that are often left unsaid. His directorial style dissects even the most miniscule moments, and lets them bleed the emotional potency hidden underneath. At its core, the premise of American Beauty is very basic, yet this examination of the human condition is as thought-provoking as any of its grander dramatic counterparts. It’s shocking ending, wit-fueled dialogue, and an efficiently composed plot make the film engaging asa whole, as entertaining as it is intriguing. Not a single moment of superfluousness, every minute of American Beauty is purposeful, and beautifully intense, leaving you simultaneously defeated and hopeful. American Beauty is the supreme modern American tragedy, and a must-see. Truly flawless.
Final Score: 5.0 out of 5.0