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127 out of 170 people found the following review useful:

Close To Perfection

10/10
Author: Ubaldo Martinez from United States
12 November 2007

The intention is so clear that everything else falls into place, perfectly. Kevin Spacey's suburban husband and father reminded me of his character in "The Ref" and that could only be a good thing. Annette Bening and her giggle works wonders here. Their marriage is a tabloid version of a "Who's Afraid To Virginia Woolf" Which means very close to someone we know. The biggest surprises in the film. besides the amazing dexterity of Sam Mendes at his first outing behind the camera, are West Bentley. Chris Cooper, Thora Brch and Allison Janney. As I'm writing this 8 years after its first release, the Oscars and the whole hullabaloo, I'm very surprised that West Bentley hasn't become a major star. He is amazing in "American Beauty" the complexities of his character are based on recognizable human stands, the hardest to face up to and I went where he went. Thora Birch is lovely as the object of his attention and the film, I believe, is here to say.

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141 out of 201 people found the following review useful:

Look closer at this dazzling, powerful masterpiece of a drama.

Author: Michael Carruthers from New Zealand
6 April 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

On a scale of 0 to 100; I gave American Beauty a score of 99.

Wow…no, I mean that. American Beauty is a film that takes my breath away each time I watch it, and every time I do watch it, I notice something newer, something more exciting and something more funny. There is honestly no other movie like this, and if you haven't seen it, there is something donged in your head, and you must do so now.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is in a mid-life crisis, caused by his stressed wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and rebelling teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). When Lester and Carolyn go watch Jane cheerleading, they meet Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), and Lester, caught in sudden lust for Angela, decides to change his life. Angela and Jane's friendship is not all it seems, too, because Angela only brags about how many times she's done it with guys and stuff. That doesn't help an already insecure Jane very much but she finds solace in the arms of the next-door-neighbours' son, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). Ricky, himself from a broken home as well, and Jane find they have a lot in common and eventually turn out to be soulmates.

Everything about this film is so darkly clear, it is extremely obvious why the Academy loved it, and it is very obvious to see that I love it. Spacey brings Lester wildly to life in a performance reminiscent of Spacey's acting coach Jack Lemmon. Also on top form is Annette Bening, in an over-controlled performance that is just so instantly loveable. While all the attention went to these performers, it is also Thora Birch (especially), Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and a quiet Allison Janney that manage to steal the show just as much. Sam Mendes is an excellent director, this is his first feature, and he is a British man directing an American-based film! And he won an Oscar for it! That's an amazing achievement, ditto to Alan Ball, who's script is effectively a stunner and an instant winner.

The best film of 1999, the best film of its decade and for now anyways, American Beauty stands tall as the best film ever made.

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98 out of 122 people found the following review useful:

Far and away the best film of the year

10/10
Author: Patrick N. Phillips (bootsy-4) from greenville, NC
14 December 1999

What can I say, except that this film really knocked me on my keaster. I went in to the theater not knowing what to expect, but was pretty sure it would be worth the ticket price. Boy was I happy when I left. Not only was it worth the ticket, I paid to see this film two more times. This film is virtually perfect. The acting is superb, the story is magnificent, the narrative is brilliant, and the structure of the film is truly groundbreaking (absolutely loved the last 20 minutes). What really surprised me about this film was how well the cinematography was done. In a small, character driven film such as this, it is very unusual to have such great cinematography. With this film, there is something interesting going on in every scene, not many films you can say that about. In a year where first time directors have made some of the best films, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, etc... Sam Mendes seems to have out-done them all. Though I have yet to see The Green Mile or Magnolia, I find it hard to believe that either film will out-shine American Beauty. This film should easily win a substantial amount of the Oscars this year. What's up with all the cirtics awards snubbing it so far?

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124 out of 183 people found the following review useful:

Edgy sting with a bitter sweet aftertaste.

Author: Mark Nielsen (mnielsen@pris.bc.ca) from Dawson Creek, B.C.
25 March 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ahh, suburbia. That manifestation of mediocrity and anonymity in this, our post-industrial society.

Where else but in a typical SFR (single-family residential) nestled on a typical tree-lined street in a typical North American suburb can we find someone like Lester Burnham?

Where else can the inspiration be found for a movie as ironically sublime as American Beauty?

Burnham is a 42-year-old man who makes a living writing promotional material for a magazine that faces downsizing thanks to the excesses of his superiors.

He is married to Carolyn Burnham, a woman maniacally devoted to making it big in local real estate, and they have a daughter, Jane, who feels about as significant as plankton floating about the briny deep and about as attractive as a rusty Ford Pinto.

About the only thing that keeps this family together is Burnham's self-loathing and the mutual hatred heaped upon him by the two women in the house.

We're talking about a guy, after all, who starts the morning by masturbating in the shower. `This is the high point of my day,' he says. `It's all downhill from here.'

It's pretty obvious that the Burnhams have been somewhat dysfunctional for a few years now. And there's no doubt that Lester is struggling with a mid-life crisis, one that is expressed in more than buying a sports car.

Things come to a head when Lester develops a lusty obsession for his daughter's best friend, replete with life-like dreams of seduction as she lies in a bath of rose petals. Now Jane has to worry about dear old dad `spraying himself' whenever she brings a friend home.

Meanwhile, Mom has started playing around behind Dad's back with a smooth yet snake-like super salesman, Buddy Kane. And Jane must come to terms with a rather unique boy next door, when some new neighbours move in.

When Ricky Fitts, the son of a homophobic military man and a robotically devoted mother, isn't dealing marijuana to people like Lester, he's video taping anything and everything that remotely interests him, and he's developing enough footage of Jane to fill the vault at MGM. Needless to say Jane is a little freaked about this headcase with an eye for the visual.

As you've probably guessed, the humour can be pretty black in this movie. Indeed, it may not be for everyone, but any accusations that this movie is nothing better than mean and cynical are simply unfounded.

Instead, taking in American Dream is like biting into the fruit of knowledge (a.k.a. the apple), the edgy initial sting is followed by a bitter sweet aftertaste.

Matters are most assuredly helped by the casting of Kevin Spacey, the kind of middle-aged guy that every middle-aged guy would like to be, in the lead role. And Annette Bening pulls no punches as the self-centred career woman whose need to prove self-worth knows no bounds.

Indeed, everyone in this movie fits the bill perfectly, right down to the manager of the local Smiley Burger (Dennis Anderson) that Lester turns to for a job after he more than refuses to toe the company line.

In its own way, American Beauty is a humourous tale about a man who finally decides to come to account for his `silly little life' on his own terms regardless of what that means in appearances. And while the price is heavy, Lester comes out a true hero.

As ironically uplifting as it is caustic and acerbic, American Beauty, to use the cliché of enthralled reviewers everywhere, is a must-see movie -- especially for anyone who has acquired enough wisdom to know that no matter how old you are, there's plenty of life left that's worth living, and plenty of growing up still left to do along the way.

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57 out of 89 people found the following review useful:

LOOK CLOSER at this BEAUTiful AMERICAN film.

Author: Jason Morales (paultanderson00@aol.com) from Daytona Beach, Florida
4 March 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sam Mendes' big screen directorial debut will one day be mentioned along with classic greats like Psycho, Vertigo, 2001 and Sunset Blvd., which it cleverly mimics in a certain way. That way, I won't ruin it, if like me, you stayed away from all reviews and talk about American Beauty until you actually saw the movie. To my surprise, I somewhat succeeded. The script, wonderfully written by Alan Ball, who like Mendes is doing his first try in this certain ball park, and hitting a home run. Sorry for the cheesy analogy, but I may talk like that through out this review because this is the kind of movie where words can do no justice and it's almost impossible to translate your feelings into words. A similar experience happened to me earlier this year with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. But back to American Beauty.

"When You've Got Nothing To Lose, You Might As Well Risk Everything."~Tagline for this film.

That is probably one of the most accurate taglines I've ever read in my life. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, in what may be the best role of his career, which used to be Swimming With Sharks) is reaching his mid-fourties. Uh-oh, mid-life crisis time, he rarely ever talks to his daughter (Thora Birch) whose feelings for him, border on hate. He and his wife Carolyn, (Annette Benning, being able to make me forget about In Dreams) constantly bicker and the whole Burnham family quietly sit at the dinner table except for the occasional quibble about this or that, for instance ("Mom, why do we have to listen to this elevator music?") The new next door neighbors, the Fitts, move in one day. Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper, giving one of the finest supporting character performances this year), is a hard-core Army officer. (Every six months, he makes his son Ricky take a urine test to make sure he's not on drugs.) His idea of fun is sitting in front of the t.v. at night with his wife (Allison Janney) watching shows of Army Cadets training. Ricky Fitts is a hopeless optimistic. He is what Dawson (from the Creek) wishes he could be. Ricky walks around everywhere with his hand held camcorder (while selling dope of the side) filming all the beauty in the world. ("Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world that it overwhelms me and my heart feels like it's going to cave in). He finds a new subject to add to his beauty collection of film. Lester's daughter, Janey. At first she doesn't like his new interest in her and thinks he's weird, but as the film progresses, they get to know each other and she starts to understand Ricky, and instead of thinking he's weird, thinking he's special. Special in being able to find beauty in the most minor and trivial things you can think of. ("Would you like to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?" That turns out to be a 15 minute shot of a plastic bag flying in the wind, right before it snows.) One night, Carolyn, in an effort to help Lester save his relationship with Janey, (although, it could be her trying to save her own relationship with her daughter) makes Lester go with her to a basketball game at Janey's high school, where she cheerleads. Lester meets Janey's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari, in an interesting turn from Choir Girl in American Pie). Angela sets something off inside Lester and wakes him up from his 20 year sleep and makes him start changing and living life to the fullest. ("I feel like I've been in a coma for the past 20 years and am just beginning to wake up). Although this is work of an ensemble cast, this is really Spacey's forum. The acting throughout this film is remarkable. Newcomer Wes Bently was excellent as the outcast Ricky, who came off as shy, yet confident. The cinematography in this film is majestically beautiful, in every frame, it's almost as if you're invited right into the scene. For instance, in one scene when Spacey came home from a cocktail party with Benning, he was in the refrigerator getting a root beer and out popped Suvari, I was so entranced into that scene, that I actually felt Spacey's startle when he saw her. This movie could be categorized as a drama, although throughout the movie, I had a smile on my face. I got to know these characters, almost as if, as friends. In a gossipy kind of way, I couldn't wait to see what happened next because this film was a look behind the scenes of real suburban life. These people portrayed, really do exist in the world. Somewhat like the people in Happiness, the people and what they do are just like things families you know do, or even your family does. The last scene of this film is amazing. Although it starts too early, way before it's ready to, it pays off at the end. With tensions building, and emotions rising, the inevitable climax will leave you breathless while making you wish it wouldn't happen and that somehow it would change. There is so much more to say about this movie, and so much left out, but I can't help it. Sam Mendes' American Beauty is an instant masterpiece, as Lester says in the movie, "You have no idea what i'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry..... You will someday." I believe those are words to live by for explaining the brilliance of this film even though critics and audiences love it now, it won't truly be appreciated until after it's time.

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33 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

The Beautiful Truth

10/10
Author: WiseFool from Bay Area
2 November 1999

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a profound movie that examines ordinary people. For all their flaws people are basically beautiful and that is one of the many threads of the fabric of this film. I liked that it was revealed at the start of the film that Lester would soon meet his demise. And I also liked at the ending, the identity of the person who took his life didn't really matter, just the sadness of the loss of his life. 'Look Closer' was the theme of this movie and Lester even had this motto in his cubical. Kevin assumed the persona of Lester with a range of acting that is quite worthy of awards. Bening inhabited Carolyn in much the same way. Which one of us hasn't experienced the disillusionment of our teenage years, only to later re-experienced it again through our children. And like Carolyn, who among us has not been intensely disappointed with ourself at some point? That one scene was amazing, it looked so real that it transcended acting. And can a movie actually move beyond entertainment by causing more than absorbing discussion, but real change in it's audience? Perhaps. But if this is true, then that movie would be American Beauty. And for those who feel this movie doesn't achieve this lofty accolade. To them I say, "Never underestimate the power of denial." A ten, of course.

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80 out of 143 people found the following review useful:

Everything that's wrong with Hollywood, distilled into two horrible hours. Spoilers.

1/10
Author: Brundledan (brundledan@hotmail.com) from Houston, TX
3 April 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Now, let me see if I've gotten this straight: "Saving Private Ryan", an epic tale of honor, glory, and sacrifice set against the backdrop of what was possibly the most important single day of the Twentieth Century, was not worthy of the Best Picture Oscar.

However, "American Beauty", a movie whose heroes are a middle-aged pedophile who casually endangers the future of his family, and the next-door drug dealer who finds "beauty" in people getting their brains blown out, is.

I see.

"American Beauty" might work as satire if 1.) it weren't telling us something we've KNOWN for fifty years - that the suburbs are not this perfect, "Ozzie and Harriet" world of smiling, white-bread people - and 2.) if the characters depicted in the movie were in any way REALISTIC. Instead, "American Beauty" is a parade of the most tiresome Hollywood cliches of the 1990s. I don't care how pathetic Spacey's and Bening's characters' lives are - would they really be THAT devoid of any redeeming values? Are we supposed to CHEER Spacey as he quits his job, smokes pot, and lusts after seventeen year-old girls, all to the detriment of his young daughter? Are we supposed to laugh at the ex-Marine's idea that the world NEEDS certain rules and standards in order to work? Clearly, we are. These are not characters at all, but ciphers. Indeed, the ex-Marine is one of the most laughable ciphers at all. He is the parody of the Evil Gun-Toting Gay-Bashing Right-Wing Military Nut, taken to its furthest extreme. As columnist John Leo recently put it, "the only thing they forgot to do was to make him a tobacco company chemist and a trustee of a segregated college." And the final revelation that the "gay-basher" is in fact gay himself is the final piece of this Hollywood stereotype; a move meant purely to make sure this character and his world-view, that of the importance of morality and of the necessity of rules in society, is completely discredited.

And I know, I know: I'm not reading between the lines. I need to "look closer". Well, I submit that those who glowingly praise this movie are looking TOO closely. It's easier to lose sight of the larger message a movie sends when you examine any one element too closely. And all that the people who made this movie have "proved" is that they live on an entirely different planet from the hard-working, Joe and Jane America they claim to so brilliantly "expose" - the same Joe and Jane America that keeps Hollywood in business.

(Ordinarily, I'd rate a movie like "American Beauty" about a "3". But since it was without question both the most offensive AND the most overrated movie of 1999 (move over, "The Phantom Menace"), and since more needs to be done to counterbalance these morons who think it's the next "Citizen Kane", I feel I have no choice but to go with my original gut instinct and give it a big fat "1". For years, I've made it a practice to save every ticket stub from every movie I've seen, regardless of its quality. Nevertheless, my "American Beauty" ticket stub now sits in torn-up shreds at the bottom of the concession-area garbage can. It seemed a fitting gesture toward this Oscar-winning piece of putrescent pap.)

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136 out of 256 people found the following review useful:

The greatest trick Kevin Spacey ever pulled...

1/10
Author: (guinnessdrink6@hotmail.com) from Perth, Western Australia
24 February 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kevin Spacey is a genius, or at least a veritable magician. A couple of the folks with whom I saw "American Beauty" said afterwards: "It was great - Spacey was incredible." His performance, it seems, is enough to have convinced people that they had just watched a decent movie, even though there is little else to recommend the film. The other significant plus is the advertising campaign - marketing it as "a funny drama" and "a moving comedy" is an ingenious way of disguising the fact that it is neither. Since there are only two or three really good laughs in the piece it isn't really funny enough to be a comedy (but since it's written by someone who used to work on "Cybill", that's hardly a surprise) and since it only gets vaguely dramatic towards the end, it doesn't maintain the atmosphere of a "drama". But the audience happily accepts this schizophrenic mess because the adverts told them to. The adverts also told them to "Look closer". Again, this is a tip-top marketing ploy, since it implies hidden depth, significance and meaning, without the content actually being there. The average audience member is going to think "Wow, that plastic bag blowing around must be really poignant, because this is a DEEP movie." Heaven forbid that they should actually think for themselves. Look closer, indeed.

What then, of the characters? Well, what characters? Every one on display here is little more than a stereotype, from fortysomething midlife crisis guy, to the uptight career-driven wife, to their moody teenage daughter to the moody teenage boy, to the homophobic soldier who - gasp - turns out to be gay, etc etc etc. Take the gay couple across the street, for example. They are only around for two or three scenes, and only then to provoke some more bigotry from Lieutenant Colonel Asskicker. They might as well have been two cardboard cut outs labelled "Gay" for all that they were able to develop. I know they are only supporting characters, but if you're going to do a movie which tackles the issue of homosexuality, you could at least have some believable homosexual characters in it, rather than 2-D cliches.

This is indicative of the whole, ghastly, contrived nature of this film. Characters don't feel like characters because they don't behave in an even remotely plausible manner, they don't behave consistently, and they seem to stumble through from one set-piece to the next. For example, Spacey getting a job at Happy Burgers; sure, that's amusing, but the whole thing is engineered just so he can catch his wife out, and then it's dropped. It doesn't fit in with any discernible character arc, but is simply contrived to get a cheap laugh. What about Ricky Fitts at the beginning? You've just moved into a new neighbourhood, you sell drugs but you have an incredibly strict father, and you notice your new next door neighbour at a party. Do you A) introduce yourself, chat to the guy, find out if he's the sort who will report you to the police etc. before making your move or B) march right up and offer the dope to him there and then because it expedites the action? Or how about the daughter's friend towards the end of the movie. You're 16 years old, you've just had a blazing row with your best friend, and your car is parked outside. Do you A) run off, leave the house asap, and drive straight home, or B) slink off downstairs and hang around interminably just in case Kevin Spacey shows up to carry out his perverted, sub-Lolita fantasy? I could go on all day...

The direction is, dare I say it, directionless. Sam Mendes should stick to his so-called risque theatre productions at the Donmar Warehouse. His debut film, as I have intimated, reeks of incoherence. In addition to the tonal uncertainty, there is no clear directorial vision. The only memorable images are borrowed from "Blue Velvet" and "Lolita", the rest of the time it seems to be left to the cast to try to carry the picture, whether through Bening's OTT hyperactivity or Wes Bentley understatement. When you look at "The Straight Story", or "The Insider", or even "The Sixth Sense", it galls me to think that this has been nominated for Best Direction...

That this movie is so highly rated by critics, IMDb users, and Oscar personnel, is a great shame, because ultimately its success is a testament to people's stupidity. A (substantial) crowd of non-thinking buffoons, easily satisfied by the occasional cheap laugh and a couple of relatively strong performances have been sold a complete lemon. This film is not deep. There is no coherent philosophical notion of either truth or beauty evident. A few shots of Ricky Fitts looking sullen and waving his camcorder around do not, I'm afraid, amount to a radical thesis on the nature of the world. And nothing can get over the contrived, episodic nature of this D-grade screenplay.

Someone earlier on this comments page claimed that they could not like anyone who didn't love "American Beauty", for it would mean that they have no soul. Well babe, by the same token, I will proudly say that anyone who does like this movie can't be my friend, because they clearly have no brain. Look closer everyone, I implore you. Frankly, "American Pie" is a more profound movie. Dump this rubbish and go and see "The Insider". Think for yourself, if you're able...

My rating: 3 (/10)

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70 out of 125 people found the following review useful:

Look closer...oops! Too close!

1/10
Author: C-17 from Maplewood, NJ
18 October 1999

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This piece of sitcommy, cliche-ridden claptrap is just smart enough on its surface for the middlebrow Academy to pimp it for a Best Picture Oscar. But anyone with half a brain will see through this tired male fantasy pretty soon. Mendes shows us a Edward Scissorhands-type of suburbia: perfect lawns, identical homes, etc... We are expected to know (since we've seen ES, Ice Storm, Happiness, Serial Mom, etc.) that these people must lead shallow, empty lives - look where they live! And... they do! This is just the first of many obvious themes that we have seen so many times before. And we haven't even reached Spacey's character's midlife crisis yet. (Surprise! He falls in sexual lust with a gorgeous high-school blonde. Sooooo subversive! Look closer, and you'll find even more cliches.) Spacey's wife is, predictably, a self-centered shrew who won't satisfy him sexually but cooks delicious nutritious dinners and sells (surprise) real estate. His daughter is a misfit (wow!) with whom he can't connect. The new kid on the block (of course there is one) is a weird, sensitive (but handsome) loner type (shocker) who (believe it or not) falls for Spacey's moody daughter. Don;t even ask about the gay neighbors. Mendes does nothing but condescend to his characters, his setting, and above all, the audience. Positives: Thora Birch is terrific and lovely; Mena Suvari is breathtakingly beautiful, and the plastic bag sequence is affecting. Pretentious c***.

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121 out of 228 people found the following review useful:

A movie that embraces the worst in humanity

1/10
Author: (drinkingturtle) from Seattle WA
20 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I HATED this movie. I hated everything about it.

Oh, look at me, I'm an armchair-existentialist. I hate my crummy boring life. I hate my job. I hate my wife. I am such a pathetic loser. Gee, I'm going to lose my job. Oh woe is me! Oh, wait, here's something interesting - a teenage girl! And what's this? Marijuana! Hey great! Now I'm a middle-aged go-nowhere jobless pothead fantasizing about having sex with teenagers. Oh yes, THIS is the life. THIS is the epitome of "BEING ALIVE!" I have truly found the meaning of life.

Whoa, check out that piece of garbage! It's like, totally floating in the wind. This is the greatest thing ever. Nevermind man's great achievements - never mind the symphony. Nevermind great architecture. Nevermind medicine and technology. Nevermind invention. Nevermind conquering the land, the sea, the mountains, the valleys, the depths of the oceans, the vasts of space. What's truly wonderful is trash in the wind.

You see, TRUE beauty is in mediocrity. Wait.. wait... no that doesn't sound right. Instead, let's call it "simplicity". That's better. Yes, worship the... *ahem* the simplicity of nature. Worship trash, not greatness. Worship drug abuse, not working. Worship laziness and prurient interests, not ambition and tenacity.

"I guess I could be pretty -expletive- off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world." Or, in simpler terms, it's easy to convince yourself of your own self-worth when you place value on common garbage. Why? Because when you say that garbage is beautiful, looking at yourself in comparison isn't so bad. Yay, I feel so much better about myself now that I'm living under this bong-clouded delusion. Apathy doesn't seem so apathetic when you've devalued everything! This was a story about a loser, who KNEW he was a loser, but rather than do anything about it, he instead deluded himself into believing that he was something more BY LOWERING HIS STANDARD OF JUDGMENT. No different than if he were a C student in school that made himself feel better by saying that C's are the same thing as A's. It's nonsense. It's utter nonsense.

American Beauty is horrible. It is, without a doubt, one of the single worst stories ever written. You want to know why? You want to know what is so utterly messed up about the principle it espouses? When you place value on garbage, when you find "beauty" in everything, BEAUTY LOSES ITS MEANING. When EVERYTHING is beautiful, NOTHING is. And you know what happens then? Congratulations - you've killed man's sense of values. You've killed his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it.

If you set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept - you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection.

And that's EXACTLY what happened to the "protaganist" (although it makes me want to spit acid to even call him that) in American Beauty. That movie worships the exact thing that it was - trash.

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