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American Beauty

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: American Beauty

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: May 1999
Genres: Drama, Comedy

*Also starring: Mena Suvari, Thora Birch, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Sam Robards, Barry Del Sherman, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper

Review by John Beachem
4 stars out of 4

Seldom has a movie come along that had me walk out in such an absolute daze. In truth, I needed a few days to let the film soak in before I could write this. What I saw can only be described by a word used sarcasticaly several times in the movie. Used here however, I'm completely serious. It was spectacular. Normally I keep my synopsis fairly short, but this is such an involved movie that it's going to require a longer plot outline.

Lester Burnham is a man with one year to live, so the opening narration tells us. We aren't privy to the events surrounding his death however. Lester lives in a generic neighborhood with his wife, Carolyn and daughter, Jane. He and his wife were in love at some point in time, but that time is long since past. His daughter thinks he's a tremendous loser, and it appears that he rather agrees with her. He turns his whole life around when he meets his daughter's friend Angela, who becomes the center of all his fantasies from then on out.

He quits his job, starts working out and smoking pot, buys his dream car, and drives his wife even further over the edge. She has, in fact, become so distanced from Lester that she's now having an affair with her real-estate rival, Buddy Kane. Next door to the Burnhams live what could be viewed as an even more disfunctional family. Colonel Fitts runs his household like a drill seargeant. He requires urine samples from his son Ricky every six months for drug testing. Ricky is, in fact, a drug dealer and a rather obsessive voyeur. The newest interest of his video camera is Jane Burnham. This first disturbs her and then slowly begins to fascinate her. The lives of these seven people slowly grow together more and more until the film's dark yet strangely necessary finale.

Despite the 5 star rating I've given this film, it is certainly not for everybody. It deals with more taboo subjects than I can count. For starters, the entire idea of a man in his forties lusting after a high school girl is rather disturbing to most. Also touched upon are ideas about as abuse, drugs, adultery, voyeurism, the list goes on and on. The rather frightening thing, is that several of these forbidden subjects aren't portrayed as being evil. Those who have moral misgivings about these few topics I've mentioned may want to steer clear of this one.

Now that I've given the warning, I'll cover the things that truly made this a great movie. For starters, the acting is exceptional all around. In particular, Kevin Spacey is amazing in a role that is quite a change for him. Audiences are used to seeing him in roles where his character is intelligent and put together; such as Jack Vinceness (LA Confidential) and Chris Sabian (The Negotiator). Here, his character is, for all intents and purposes, a loser. However, he so completely throws himself into the role that we never for a second doubt him. The other amazing performance comes from newcomer Wes Bentley. Ricky seems to be the only person who is fully in charge of his emotions, if not his life.

While the acting is certainly one of the highpoints, there are far more to this film than I can cover in this review. The script is wonderful and involving, changing from being hilarious to complete seriousness flawlessly. The characters are sharply defined without being sterotypical (with the possible exception of Colonel Fitts), and the music is perfectly used to enhance several key scenes. I've heard some complaints about the film's dark ending not fitting in with the rest of the movie. I completely disagree with this. I thought the ending was esential considering the character types at play here.

Overall, I have to give this a full rating of five stars, yet advise you to see it only if you think they can handle the forbidden subjects, so blatantly depicted. Expect this to get nominations in all the major categories at this year's academy awards.

* * * * * - One of the greatest movies ever made, see it now. * * * * - Great flick. Try and catch this one. * * * - Okay movie, hits and misses. * * - Pretty bad. See it if you've got nothing better to do. * - One of the worst movies ever. See it only if you enjoy pain.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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