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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Of the 250+ films I've seen and rated on IMDb, only one other
(Schindler's List) is as good as American Beauty. A film like this not
only entertains while you're in the theater but also drops subtle
questions in your head about the nature of human behavior and the gulf
between fantasy and reality. After watching this movie, viewers will
think long and hard about their own lives as well as the lives of
people around them. The movie spells out the social disillusionment
phenomenon everyone experiences but can't really grasp.
American Beauty reminds us that, like Lester, we really have no idea what we really want. We're not rational creatures as economists assume we are. Our instinct might lead us to perform one action, yet our brains might tell us to perform the complete opposite. We may lust after material belongings, yet how do we know we will still treasure those material belongings once we obtain them? Lester may lust after Angela, yet once he feels her in his hands and finds out the truth about her sexuality, an entirely different feeling comes over him.
Ricky Fits, the drug-dealing boy next door, is able to look beyond conventional notions of attractiveness and find beauty in non-promiscuous, solemn girls as well as in plastic bags floating in the wind. When many criticize the movie, they say, "Where's the beauty in a plastic bag?" And that's the point. We live in a world of aesthetic subjectivism. What one person finds attractive, another may find repulsive, yet the urge is there for people to assume aesthetic absolutism. "It's just a plastic bag! How can there be beauty in it?" Well, a human being is just an aggregation of tissues, bones, and blood. How is that attractive? It depends on how you look at it. Reality is shaped by perspective.
Some people criticize the Ricky Fits character because he records his life experiences on tape and doesn't actually experience them. But time moves inexorably in one direction. Time cannot be stopped. In a physical sense the past and the future don't exist. We are only conscious in the present. Everything we do, everything we achieve, every bit of happiness we experience -- they are all eventually buried in the past by time. Recording subjective beauty is a means by which one can attempt to salvage beauty from the past into the present because time eventually destroys all beauty. If you don't believe me, walk into a pre-school and then walk into a nursing home. Remember that all the old men and women in the nursing home were once little kids.
Another profound element of American Beauty is in the tag line: look closer. An individual's behavior is not independent of his environment. Humans are conformists by nature, and humans will modify their behavior to assimilate into existing social categories. If any individual dares to stray from the category to which he has been assigned, he is shouted down and ostracized. No one can resist the urge to conform, so why bother? Everyone is nice in public, yet on the streets they blare their horns, scream, and swear. Some boys I know pretend to hate American Beauty because on the surface it seems like a "chick flick." They force themselves to watch gory horror movies and show off to others how they can stomach intense violence and excessive sex scenes. In American Beauty, Angela acts like a total slut, as many girls seem to be nowadays. In the end, however, she is not what she makes herself out to be. Colonel Fits tries to act like such a man, yet in the end it's all just a giant facade. Civilization is but one giant movie, and members of society must start acting their parts if they want to belong to this civilization. Otherwise, they're outsiders. Try walking into a job interview without a tie. You'll be thrown out. That is the power of convention.
What if I asked you this question: What do you want in life? Most people would say, "happiness." But is happiness worth deluding yourself for? Carolyn Burnham shields herself from sadness by adopting a positive-thinking philosophy, a philosophy of self-affirming mantras and harsh self-discipline. Positive thinking may help you attain your goals, but positive thinking also blinds you from reality. Is it wise or moral to change the channel when you hear about mass starvation in Africa so you can enjoy moments of fleeting happiness from a cheap romance movie? Self-help is just a euphemism for self-deception. All humans need some complex fraud to distract them from the harsh and nihilistic realities of life, whether it's religion, money, or even love.
In spite of American Beauty's greatness, there are problems. Characters are stereotypical, but viewers will hardly notice unless they're ultra-critical. Anyway, exaggeration is essential in satire so that certain points are made obvious to viewers. Furthermore, Alan Ball's original screenplay is slightly edited. The ending is more optimistic.
Problems aside, Sam Mende's debut movie is one of the greatest I've seen. Not only is it entertaining but it is also filled with interesting ideas. It's an important film for society because there's so much society needs to learn. One boy I knew refused to watch American Beauty because, as he said, "I'm not gonna watch a movie with a name like that!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
American Beauty is the greatest movie ever made.
If you haven't already, watch American Beauty by yourself and give yourself some time afterwards to think it over. You will never, ever look at life the same way. It does exactly what movies are meant to do - give us a window into ourselves, and American Beauty does that better than any other film has ever done. No word of dialogue is unnecessary, no character exaggerated, everything is perfect...but if you have seen American Beauty you should know that already. Once you look closer at this movie, and see Beauty in every frame, it becomes so much easier to look closer and see Beauty in everything around you. You think I'm waxing poetic? Then you must not have seen the movie. Every character is a part of each of us: the Lester Burnham of change, the Carolyn of uncertainty and failure, the rebellion of Jane, the defeated Barbara, the false control of Angela and the Colonel, and the real control of Ricky. To me Ricky, not Lester, is the center of this story; he somehow controls or sets in motion the heart of Lester's rebirth and downfall. There are several parts of this movie where I lose control every time I see it, and none more so than the paper bag scene. To me that scene is simply the greatest monologue ever written.
I listened to the message of American Beauty - look closely and you can find Beauty in anything - and it changed my life. I rose out of a long, deep depression and started out into the world. Sometimes there is so much Beauty in the world, I can't even stand it, and it feels like my heart is going to burst.
This is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen.
"American Beauty" is tour de force cinema. Sam Mendes' brilliant debut
feature depicts a web of characters who yearn for their own 'American
Dream' - yet, in the end, only one character truly attains it.
Having seen "Happiness" only recently, I could not help but draw comparisons: both films centre around a microcosm of society in which the people, in their own unique way, all strive to be successful or simply 'happy'. But here the similarities end: the characters in "Happiness" undergo a self-realisation process through which they become increasingly aware of their meaningless existence, and go on to wallow in their own depravity. "Happiness" shows no signs of redemption; whereas in "American Beauty" the audience is offered a sense of hope, of salvation, though the characters must endure a similar fate, or more accurately, they must endure the way of life in which they are trapped.
The pivotal character upon which this theme centres, is the father Lester, played impeccably by Kevin Spacey. He is presented to us as a bit of a loser who plays the subjugated figure in the home and at work. He appears resigned to an unhappy life in which he is treated badly by his wife and daughter and his boss at work. Seemingly beyond redemption, Lester transforms from being a loser.
Mendes portrays this transformation admirably well: he shows Lester on his 'path to enlightenment' pushed up against a grim background of suburbanite existence. These early scenes are well balanced, forming a steady rhythm of TV commercial-like vignettes which prove very comical, if at times unsettling. As Lester reflects in the film: "My life is like a commercial". And how this rings true: like in "Happiness", all the characters hide underneath this veneer of normality and respectability, yet they are all revealed to be nothing but the opposite: depressed, depraved and desperate.
Lester's wife, played by Annette Benning, is the most success-driven character in the story which renders her the most hopeless in the film's tone of moral conviction. "In order to be successful in life one must project the appearance of success" is the maxim she adopts from the 'king' of real estate, Buddy King. It is a phrase which resonates throughout the film: for Benning's pawn, life is all about keeping-up appearances. This is where Lester differs from her: his emancipation is enabled by him discarding the constraints of 'normal life' and following what his heart desires.
Lester is the catalyst in this narrative in which the ancillary characters either follow suit (as does his daughter and Ricky) or pay the price (as does his wife and the Colonel). The irony inherent in this film, and it grows with resonance as the film draws to a conclusion, is that the only character who truly becomes free must sacrifice everything in order to achieve it. Yet it is through his sacrifice that he is able to afford the surviving characters a glimpse of hope in life.
This film left me gasping for air: its hyper-realism conveys, at the same time, a portrait of the suburban comedy, a jolting-shock of realisation, and a cathartic sense of hope. Mendes depicts a certain people who, to varying degrees, all strive for a certain 'American Dream', yet so few actually attain it. Though whilst one may have difficulty with tagging this film with the 'feel good' label, the beauty of "American Beauty" is that it sits half-way between a desperate cry for help and a reassuring sense of happiness and fulfilment and that is cinema at its best.
This film is one of a kind. After seeing this film last week, I was left
with a hole in the pit of my stomach. It left many questions in my mind,
and most of them cannot be answered. In my view, a film that makes me think
after I watch it is second-to-none, and this film certainly delivers in that
I was amazed with the vivid imagery in this movie, as well as with the symbolism. However, what makes this film the best of 1999 is the acting. Kevin Spacey shines as Lester Burnham, and Annette Bening (Carolyn Burnham) isn't far behind. Supporting cast members such as Wes Bentley (Ricky Fitts), Thora Birch (Jane Burnham), Mena Suvari (Angela Hayes), and Chris Cooper (Col. Frank Fitts) only add to the drama of this film. I think the most special aspect of this film is how all of the characters intertwine in a way that is believable, yet fantastic at the same time. I congratulate Sam Mendes for his direction of this film, as well as Alan Ball for writing it. I don't think it could have been any better.
Rated R in the U.S. for strong sexuality, language, drug content, and violence, the film obviously deserves its rating. However, none of the causes for the R rating are overbearing, and all of them add to the plot-line of this film. While I don't think that this is a film for children, I would suggest that adults should view it with an open mind. I believe that the traits which many of the characters in this film have are found in many people around the world. Perhaps that is why this film hits close to home for so many viewers.
While billed by some as a "comedy-drama", I don't see anything about this film as funny. Sure, there are some comedic moments, but by the end, those moments were all but forgotten when faced with the grim reality of the conclusion of the events portrayed in this film.
If you want to watch a light-hearted film with some elements of comedy and some elements of drama, don't see American Beauty. But if you enjoy films that make you think, and are entertained by an excellent cast, excellent directing, and an excellent screenplay, this film should be at the top of your list.
My Rating: 10/10
I have come to see the movie with a certain prejudice. Everyone saying
it was so wonderful, so touching, so excited -- I usually tend to go with
movies that nobody likes. Nevertheless, this one was a certain
It is a wonderful psychological drama, a satire about the American community and about the American life; dark, painful irony and cynicism in the descriptions of life and characters; deep sarcasm on types of people in the community, habits of behaviour such as "...if you want to succeed, you always have to seem successful..." or "never stop smiling", parasites of the community, and, most importantly, the treatment of people who are "different", who are "freaky" to some extent; and eventually, there is no character in the film that is not odd in its way, although we have to wait for the very ending of the film, to discover this.
With very deep and accurate exaggeration, (most of) the characters in the movie demonstrate the worst, the darkest sides of their personality, while still remaining very human, very touching and very involving the observer. Everyone can find a certain similarity with characters and persons who he met in his life, in the characters described in the film. The tragi-comical events, the little pieces of funny, disturbing irony dripping from almost every episode, lead the observer to exploration of the American Beauty -- the beauty in life, and the way that we fail to find it, for all our life; the way we hide our feelings and emotions, even behind sullen walls of our sepulchre.
The acting is truly brilliant, the episodes are built logically, coherently, the dialogues are deep, thrilling, intriguing; every sentence and every word is deeply constructed, containing profound irony and intelligent elements of humors. The plot is very intelligently built, constructing a true indication of the sad situation of the American society, and an excellent ground for the actors.
An amazing movie, strongly recommended. 10/10
Probably the best film of 1999. This dark comedy drama marks
two fantastic feature film debuts with Alan Ball as writer and Sam
Mendes as director (both winning oscars for their sterling
Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man on the brink of a mid-life crisis, who suddenly becomes obsessed with one of his teenage daughters friends played by Mena Suvari. His daughter (Thora Birch) is, as Lester tells us; "a typical teenager. Angry, insecure, confused...". And his wife Caroline (Annette Bening) has an obsession of her own, her public appearance.
Life starts off on a downer for the Burnhams and their new neighbours the Fitts despite their lives looking good from the outside.
As life begins to improve (with most of the main characters finding what they think is love or new relationships) it soon all comes crashing down in the climactic final day.
The writing is nothing short of brilliant and made even more amazing by knowing that it comes from a first time feature film screen writer Alan Ball (who had had years of prior experience writing TV sitcoms - not that you'd be able to guess from the tone of this film).
The directing is on a par with the writing and Sam Mendes manages to get some brilliant performances from the great cast, who are all faultless. No doubt Mendes' theatre directing past played a huge part in directing the actors so well.
Another person worthy of a mention is the late director of photography Conrad L. Hall, another one of the five oscar recipients for this film.
All the elements in this film gel perfectly together to make one superb masterpiece. Not one person, either cast or crew, steals this film or does anymore than anyone else to make this film what it is. Truly an ensemble effort. 10/10.
This movie was a joy to watch. I didn't know what to expect when I came
into it. I had heard the buzz of the acting and the story, etc...but we've
all heard that before and had been disappointed, but not so with this one.
Kevin Spacey plays this part to a "T". He is strong when it requires and meek when it is needed. His emotional rollercoaster ride is a trip to partake in. Annette Bening is marvelous as well. I think they both should be nominated.
The support cast is also spectacular. Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari all give great performances as the troubled "Teenagers" in the film. Of particular mention is Wes Bentley's performance, worthy of a supporting nomination as well.
This is a dramatic and funny tale of a man and his life in a state of turmoil and transition. When he happens to see a beautiful friend of his daughter's at a cheerleading exhibition, he is completely infatuated with her beauty. Using this as his inspiration, he attempts to change all aspects of his life. He confronts his marriage, his job, his ego, and his libido.
The music in this film is also very well chosen. There are moments when the music fits so perfectly with the scene that they meld together as one to present a perfect emotion.
The plot can get rather involved, but you will follow it endlessly to see where you go. I was simply involved, hook, line and sinker.
See this movie more than once, and skip some of the other movies out now that are dare I say, trash.
This should be on the top of many critic's lists this year and it is certainly on top of mine.
My Rating (1 - 10): 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
And there were a lot of great ones this year. I will also say something even
(possibly) bolder--that Kevin Spacey gives the performance of his career.
And all us movie geeks know that is saying a LOT, given this man's past
roles, and his talent. I used to think he was overrated as an actor. Then I
figured OK, I see what all the fuss is about. Now, he's up there with my
favorite actors of all time, with James Woods, Steve Buscemi, Robert
Deniro...probably in the top 5.
I was lucky enough to see a free screening this afternoon and boy, am I glad I had the privilege. In fact, this review might not even be that coherent- it's one of those movies that blows you away so much that you have trouble even putting your feelings into words.
The plotline sounds trite when you first describe it (it did to me when I first heard about it), Spacey plays a man who describes himself as a loser, with Annette Bening as his horrible, shrewish, self-absorbed, pathetic b*tch of a wife. His daughter is not all that likeable either, despite the fact that you can understand why she turned out this way, with her as a mother. Just when you think you've met the most dysfunctional family in the world outside of "Happiness", you find out about the family who just moved in next door. At first, the strange son seems like the most messed-up member of their brood, but after you get to meet his ex-military, abusive, homophobic, terrifying father and his withdrawn, sad, headcase mother, you realize he is the most normal member of the household by far. Then, the filmwriters toss in Kevin Spacey's lustful obsession with his daughter's sexkitten cheerleader friend, which trust me, is a lot more fun, entertaining, and amusing than it sounds when you read about it. Soon, he is having the most entertaining, amusing midlife crisis ever seen in the history of cinema. He just doesn't give a ***k about what he does or says anymore, and you only wish you could get away with doing the things he does.
I found myself laughing out loud in this movie so many times, most of it horrified, amazed laughter at what is happening and the things that are coming out of the character's mouths, especially Spacey's. He had at least a dozen lines that had every member of the audience in hysterics and actual applause and cheers.
I can't say enough good things about this movie. You think, after the first five minutes, that you know how the movie will end. Well, Spacey's opening narrative does give it away, but trust me, the events unfold in a way that you will NEVER see coming. You will swear you can see what a character is going to do next, what violent or self-destructice act they will commit, but you turn out to be wrong.
Without getting too pretentious here, the movie lives up to it's theme/tagline of "...look closer". THe characters are not what they seem, up until the end, and even then they surprise you. At least two characters that you are POSITIVE you have figured out, do or say something that turns all your preconceptions of them upside down, while making your jaw drop, and your heart ache. You will leave the movie with a smile, though, and that is maybe what I expected least of all.
Words just cannot do this movie justice.
See it for yourself.
When I first saw this movie in theaters, I found it to be very funny. When
rented it at home, I found it to be very sad and complex. Looking at it
I realize that it is surely one of the most extraordinary films ever to
out of Hollywood. To some it may look trite or cliched, or maybe too
un-ordinary to be worthy of its praise, but the overall impact of this film
is extremely powerful. After you've seen it, you know you've seen
A few notable elements stand out. The direction is superb; this is visually a superior film, for the director understands the subtle changes in tone. The writing is equally compelling; the story effortlessly interweaves multiple stories to create one amazing movie. The haunting music is also notable. Lastly is the acting. Kevin Spacey has done excellent films before, and he can add this one to the list. He may be a little to witty to suggest the overshadowed character he portrays, but he simply disappears into the role. Annette Bening is also fine; a less strong role, but she is magnificent none the less. As the teenagers, Thora Birch is able to mesmerize us with one intense look; her "typical teenager" role is fleshed out completely. I enjoyed Mena Suvari's character equally. It seemed that she did not receive as much acclaim, but her performance evokes both innocence and experience, and her scenes toward the end give her a depth unlike any other character. And Wes Bentley, as the video-taping boy next door, is easily the most original character. At first he seems a little tense, but, like Spacey, he sinks into the role. His "purpose" in the film, unlike anyone else's, is a mystery, thus making him the most enigmatic person.
Most films are able to make a lasting impression on its audience, but never has a movie been known to "move" its viewers as much as this movie. It truly says something about life, no matter how predictable or tacky it appears, this film disturbingly shows us how to appreciate our individual lives, so therefore, when they are over, we each have something to remember.
This is by far one of the best, if not THE, movies of the 90's.
"American Beauty" stole my vote immediately as I started watching it.
The idea and concept of "American Beauty" is just some ordinary people
on an ordinary block with ordinary lives.
Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnam, a middle aged married man who has lost some hope in life. He has a job that is degrading, a wife who refuses to show any type of loving emotion towards him, a daughter who practically hates herself, and is judged constantly as a looser. But all of a sudden, he sees his daughter's friend, Angela, and something snaps in him to do something with his life. He quits his job and takes, the dreaded by most Americans, a fast food cook job. He starts working out and doing some illegal substances. Even though this sounds like he is ruining his life, it actually helps him and makes him realize how much he loves "the precious moments in his stupid little life." You have no idea what he is talking about I'm sure, but don't worry, you will some day. Kevin Spacey was by far the best actor in 1999 and deserved this Oscar 100%.
Annete Benning plays Carol Burnam, Lester's wife. She is a very fake and unsuccessful real estate agent who cannot get a sale. Her image in life is "in order to be successful, one most project an image of success at all times". You can tell, she is not happy with her marriage and starts to have an affair with the big boss of the real estate company. Again, seems horrible, but it helps her in the end. Annete was unfortunately robbed of an Oscar for this film.
The supporting cast: Thora Birtch who plays Janie, Lester and Carol's daughter, is extremely depressed and hates her body and herself. But when she notices a strange boy next door and develops a relationship with him, she realizes how precious life is and starts communicating with her family. Mena Suvari plays Angela, Janie's best friend, Lester's crush, and a girl who is clearly insecure despite her attempts at showing her sexy side to every guy in town. Wes Bentley plays Ricky, the next door neighbor boy who looks at something as simple as a bag being tossed in the wind as something beautiful. Some say that this was a very stupid scene, but I disagree. His dialog was perfect and made us look twice at something so simple. He won most of our hearts despite having somewhat of an arrogant attitude. Wes without a doubt got robbed of a nomination for this movie. Chris Cooper plays Ricky's father, Col. Frank Fits. He is a military Sergent who is very abusive to his wife and son and is an obvious homophobic that turns into an ironic situation in the end. Chris also should've been nominated.
The most stunning character actually to me was Allison Janney who played Barbara Fits, Ricky's mom, and Frank's wife. She was so beautiful and perfect. Her scene in the front room with Frank and Ricky, everything is so quite, and she says "I'm sorry, what?". Ricky says "Mom, no one said anything". When Ricky gets kicked out by Frank after a horrible accusation, Ricky says "Mom, I'm leaving". Instead of being like the average mom and trying to stop him or say things will get better, she knows this is best and says "OK. Wear a raincoat". Allison was just amazing and didn't get enough credit for her role.
If there could have been nominations for every role in this movie, they were well deserved. This is a terrific movie that should be watched by every adult. It'll make you look again at your life and think. What a great movie.
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