Wednesday, August 29, 2007

American Beauty

The year was 1999.

Star Wars was back. Y2K was upon us. And late in the year, after the summer buzz surrounding The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense wore off, the Oscar season began, and American Beauty, the movie that would eventually win Best Picture, and for good reason, was released. And with a growing fervor that lasted until after the awards, American Beauty won the hearts and minds of the American movie-going audience.

I re-watched this movie last night, and I must say, it's held up.

Kevin Spacey is amazing in his performance as Lester Burnham, a family man in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Spacey's facial expressions, delivery and body movements are all perfectly telegraphed. For me it's a toss up as to which is the better Spacey performance: Lester Burnham or Verbal Kint.

And the excellent cast doesn't end with Spacey.

Annette Benning is also perfect as Carolyn, a failing real estate agent who is desperately trying to one-up Lester in her own mid-life crisis. Chris Cooper is effectively creepy and then oddly sympathetic as the ex-military next-door neighbor. Wes Bentley is cool as the calm but mysterious Ricky, Thora Birch as Jane is full of repressed angst, and Mena Suvari is naively seductive as the object of Lester's misplaced desire.

Director Sam Mendes hasn't yet lived up to his debut, although both Road to Perdition and Jarhead were both solid follow-ups. Instead of using fancy tricks, Mendes just points and shoots and his simple directing style heightens the tension that is always taking place between the characters.

But what is probably the most memorable thing about American Beauty is this, the humor. It's wickedly funny. Spacey steals the show as a man with nothing to lose, blackmailing his boss all the way down to working at a burger joint and Benning scores huge with her hysteric outbursts in response to Lester's antagonizing ways.

At age 20, this movie had a huge impact on me, and it still does. Watching it last night it reminded me not to take the people I love for granted, and to appreciate the things I have, but not let them control me.

And that's hard to do sometimes.

FILM SCORE: **** (out of ****)
BEST PART: The whole thing.
STATUS: Millennial classic.

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