American Beauty (1999)
Director: Sam Mendes
This movie is to a dull suburbanite family existence, what Office Space was for a dull corporate office job—a fascinating glimpse at what it may be like to escape, with a reminder of the cost one would have to pay.
People often forget that “American Beauty” is a comedy, because of how dark and deep it is willing to go, but it is, and at times a very funny one at that. It is also one of the most painfully human movies of my generation telling the story of a middle aged sad sap named Lester (Kevin Spacey) whose wife no longer respects him, who lusts after his daughter’s high school friend, while said daughter plots to run away from home with the boy next door, who as it occurs, also happens to sell pot to Lester occasionally.
When it was released this movie was seen as a throat-punch to suburbia and postmodern American ideals, and while it is still great effective as that, it is the characters in the movie rather than the satirical message that deserve to take center stage. Some parts of the movie don’t work for me, such as the excruciatingly self-aware and pretentious bit about the two teenage lovers being completely obsessed in the trajectory of a flying bag of garbage.
As far as metaphors go, that’s about as subtle as a ballpeen hammer to the skull. Other than that though, this is a great movie full of quirky characters all of which seem to suffocating under the blandness of their lives until they make their various changes. The dialogue is well written, and there’s no better sardonic smartass on the planet than Kevin Spacey.
Anette Benning is also terrific as the controlling desperate wife, and Thora Birch provides the movie’s cosmic center as the aforementioned daughter. This is a movie which may have been hurt by all the critical praise it received.
It is very much an “everyman’ kind of movie; don’t let the fact that people who watch movies for a living like it too, discourage you from enjoying it.