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American Beauty (1999) – Movie Review

American Beauty poster

Written by: Alan Ball
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

Lester (Spacey) is a man with a problem. His life sucks. He’s forty-two, he’s stuck in a marriage that is the opposite of bliss with his polyurethane wife (Bening), his daughter (Birch) thinks he is an utter loser, and his job is going absolutely nowhere. Then, he meets his daughter’s cheerleader friend Angela (Suvari), an escapee from a Nabokov novel, and the poor man becomes quite smitten. This rekindles Lester’s ambition and galvanizes him to try and find his lost youth–but the question is to what consequence?

Why didn’t I trust my legs to carry me out of the cinema when this film ended? Well, let’s start with the cast. Spacey is outstanding as the epicenter of change, and unless the running gets really crowded really quick, he’s at least got an Oscar nom nailed down–or there’s no justice in the world. Bening is forgiven for In Dreams. The supporting cast is marvelous as well, with the teens Birch, Suvari and relative newcomer Bentley holding their own support beams quite nicely. Also worth noting are Scott Bakula and Sam Robards as Team Jim from next door providing an amusing subplot, which of course leads to a damn serious subplot.

[ad#longpost]Which brings up an interesting point. Sam Mendes and Alan Ball have essentially delivered the film that a lot of other movies hope to someday grow up to be, for I have seen portions of this film attempted before. This film says what The Ice Storm tried to say about family dysfunction. It says what In the Company of Men tried to say about modern relationships. It says what Happiness tried to say about living in a modern, apathetic, nigh-nihilistic society. It also says whatever the hell James Toback thought he was saying with Two Girls and a Guy. It succeeds where all of its predecessors failed because it exhibits a stable, consistent tone and style, using brilliant direction, incredible acting and a smart screenplay that balances the comedy with the morbidity. It manages to provide a hellishly funny and disturbingly accurate portrait of life in America as the millennium begins to yawn to a close. I saw this film over a week ago, and it still haunts me with its quiet and shattering intensity. It is bottom line the most superlative film to be released thus far in 1999.