American Beauty is a film that caught me by complete surprise. I had heard all of the hype surrounding the film, the academy awards and what not, but from the trailers and clips I had seen before hand weren’t very impressive. I was, thankfully, 100 percent wrong. Almost at once I was enchanted by its dark almost sinister comedic approach. I laughed not at the character misfortunes but at how they reacted to them in such a sarcastic way and feel at ease with it. Rarely does a film have its characters all connect in a similar way as American Beauty. We can relate to every character, to their attitude and their reasoning’s.
The film tells us the story of a man named Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) a human being so out of touch with reality it’s almost too pathetic. He lives a hapless marriage with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) who’s same day to day schedule is tiresome and she feels that it’s time for a new chapter in life maybe not one that necessarily involves Lester. As broken as Lester seems he basically tells us with his opening narration that it’s never too late to get all the joy of life back. Shortly after this delightful narration we are introduced to his daughter, Jane (Thora Birch) whose anti-social behavior attracts the attention of her troubled young neighbor Ricky(Wes Bentley) a drug dealer who is silently rebellious against his prejudice father.
The character development in this film is outstanding. At the beginning of the film Lester Burnham is a broken down man who has nothing to live for. He notices Jane’s very attractive friend, Angela(Mena Suvari), at one of her high school basketball games. He instantly has an extreme attraction towards her which he knows could ruin his home life but at that moment Lester no longer cares. In the moment he notices Angela he takes a whole new perspective on life. He starts to feel alive again like when he himself was in high school, a kid again. Even when he is working at a drive-thru and catches his wife with her lover he still doesn’t care because he himself knows that his heart belongs to Angela no matter how crazy it sounds to anyone else.
Carolyn Burnham (Lester’s wife) seems to me to be a quite tragic character. Her job as a realtor is failing hard because she is in constant competition with “The real estate king” Buddy Kane. She finds that she is attracted to him and without remorse chooses to deceive Lester and start a torrid affair with Buddy. She then refuses any advances made by her very own husband because she is unsure of herself and of what she has become.
The Burnham’s daughter, Jane is another odd ball in this dysfunctional family. She is oddly attracted to the fact that her next door neighbor Ricky consistently records her movements with his handheld camera. We learn that Ricky realizes the beauty life, its true nature. Although it is an odd motive it makes sense. He feels the most beautiful thing he has ever recorded is a bag almost dancing in the wind in front of him almost as if its destiny is to be there with him. As we watch his recording the visual of seeing this is beautiful to us and we begin to understand this character more and more.
The most innocent character in this whole charade is Lester’s deepest desire, Angela. She posses as a sex crazed nymphomaniac to go along with her image and fit in to society. We learn though that none of this is true and it is all an act to get attention.
All of these characters problems and misfortunes collide on one stormy night in a beautifully crafted chilling conclusion. At the end of the film we truly want to cry but it’s hard to because we know that every character is in their own right place in the world, even Lester.
To bring these characters to life though would take the work of masterful acting and American Beauty has just that and so much more. Kevin Spacey in the role is perfect. He is such a depressing character but his positive outlook on everything his hilarious. He feels that nothing can go wrong and well, for a man in his position he’s pretty much right. Spacey’s comedic approach is genius his sarcastic dialogue feels as though it should have been over the top and downright goofy, this is not a problem for Spacey as he never goes over the top but instead stays with his character and doesn’t stray away from him. Annette Bening was also an intelligent casting choice. She realizes her character’s marriage is loveless and it seems like she can almost relate to it. It’s her performance that makes it seem this way because it is believable. The way she and Spacey communicate on screen is incredible and hilarious to boot. The rest of the supporting cast plays their part in superb condition. They realize who their character is and take control of them and never leaving their persona making the film as realistic as it possibly could be. Like Birch and Bentley as the two troubled teens of hopeless parents. We feel as though these characters know each other the way they interact towards each other is a thing of beauty.
Every thing about American Beauty works. It’s imagery is marvelous, the writing is fantastic, the characters are superbly done and most importantly every time i watch the film it leaves me with a smile on my face that could last a life time.