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.