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.
“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.)