In movies, suburbia has always been a hot place for tortuous feelings, but none has even come close to the tragedy depicted in American Beauty, a rich, beautiful, and saddening look at the ordinary's person life, and what it takes to break free.
There are three central points that American Beauty pivots around: Cast, screenplay, and direction. The movie is highlighted with an extremely talented cast, headed by Kevin Spacey who delivers an Oscar worthy performance. Following close behind is Annette Bening, the miserable wife who is slowly driven insane by her materialism and lack of a real life. Thora Birch plays the reclusive teenage daughter who is the only fabric of innocent love in the family. Next comes Mena Suvari, the daughter's best friend who Spacey falls hopelessly in love in, only to reveal that she isn't everything she says. Wes Bentley is Ricky, the boy Birch falls in love with, and who probably doesn't help the family's already fragile condition. And last but not least, giving one of the best performances of his life, is Chris Cooper, who plays Ricki's militaristic dad.
American Beauty could not have made it to where it is now without a brilliant script. Mixed with drama and comedy, the script deals out a perfect blend without weighing towards one genre more than the other. At some points, especially in the beginning, Spacey's and the rest of the cast's normal dialogue is mockingly funny of suburbia's ritualistic conversations. Further on, when things turn deeply serious, the script smoothly shifts directions to fit the mood. As for characters, Alan Ball dealt out some wickedly strange people. Lester and Carloyn (Spacey and Bening) are absolutely crazy, but the real weird ones are Ricky and Barbara Fitts (Bentley and Janney), Ricky being a monotone symbolic figure who views the beauty of life through a video camera, and Barbara almost completely vacant and artificial.
Direction is also a major player. As soon as the movie begins, it snaps to Birch and shows her on amateur camera saying how she wants the filmmaker to kill her father. It then goes to a view of the suburbs and has Spacey talking, describing his life in past tense, even from past his death. But throughout the movie director Sam Mendes throws a lot of curves, especially with the triple replay he seems to like so much. Transition between scenes and characters was also well done, and the final scene, as Spacey pondered over his life, was well done. The climax, along with the fight at the dinner table, had to be the two dramatic highlights of the film.
American Beauty is a symbolic representation, and tragedy, of most of our lives, but also is a witty and comical dramatic masterpiece that will no doubt become a classic, and an Oscar contender.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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