Suburban life isn't all rose petals, jail bait cheerleaders and gay neo-nazis in the closet! Something much darker lies beneath the veneer and whatever it is, it's not only dark, it's beautiful. American Beauty is a mid-life crisis tale that's heavy on the men's lib message.
Spacey gives his I'm-so-bored drawl and every word he utters conveys the cynical sarcastic disdain he feels for the world. But his performance is not without levity. Watch him as he says, "I rule." It's fantastically subtle. Subtle in a look-at-how-funny-that-is way. When he finally begins to assert himself, it is remarkably poignant. Watch him throw asparagus against the wall. No, it's not a potential precursor to domestic violence. It's a declaration of independence whereupon you happily applaud Spacey's descent into me-me-me world. Meanwhile, his daughter Missy Miserable, played by Thora Birch is committed to the dead stare demeanor. Her only guide as she navigates the teenage wasteland is blonde bimbo Jenny Jailbait. Thora is a disillusioned youth in need of a more thoughtful peer. Enter the eccentric and creepy Ricky Fitts. As far as Ricky is concerned, Mena is a bland blonde and Thora is a glowing angel of tortured teendom.
Ricky is an immediately endearing character for the fact that he appears to have been born with a paralyzing birth defect - the inability to blink. Ricky's sole purpose in life is to mock the stuffy suburbanite pursuit of perfection. This is something he can do simply by standing in one place without blinking. Observe his psycho-killer stare as he balances sincerity with pretentious existential insights. The epic plastic bag dance is so stunning that wide-eyed Ricky feels like he might pass out from its beauty. For Ricky, a plastic bag is a bigger tearjerker than Lester's morning grip in the shower.
As cinematic as this film is visually, you still get bits of that late 90s staple, digital hand-held technique. You see, the only way you can catch the raw truth of life is through the seemingly cold and impersonal lense of a digital camera. Yes, this came out the same year as Blair Witch. American Beauty is a cul de sac of tragedy and sickly stirring dreams where one's ambition and desire supersedes any responsibility to anyone else. Well, at least that's what it is if your name is Lester Burnham.