American Beauty (1999)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch,
Written By: Alan Ball
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Release Date: October 11, 1999
Summary: An unhappily married, suburban man decides to change his life after falling in love with his teenage daughter's best friend.
My Thoughts: I've put off this review multiple times because it's my favorite film and I don't even know how I could give it the justice it deserves, but here I am...doing this review.
American Beauty is a film that I only show to people I care about, people who would understand it's messages that I'm also going to talk about here. We meet Lester (Kevin Spacey), a man who's introduced to us as a simple, average guy who hasn't had sex in forever thanks to hi overbearing, workaholic wife and a guy who is kind of stuck. He's stuck in this unhappy marriage, he's stuck in this dead-end job and most importantly, he's stuck in a life that he hates, but, then again, he seems so normal you may not notice that. But as, the DVD tagline states, we've got to: Look closer. Look closer at Lester, look closer at his life, but most importantly, look closer at your own. It's a psychological drama, one that explains the dark side of the mundane life of being a human because while it seems normal to have a good job that pays your bills and a seemingly wife and daughter, what's not normal is revealed upon closer inspection and that is whether or not these things make you happy and to Lester, they do not. Upon closer inspection of his seemingly average life does he realize that he is averagely forgettable, not respected by his family and not really doing anything of merit to himself. It is after he meets Angela (Mena Suvari), his daughter's best friend that something in him reawakens and he goes on this journey in changing his life. But why Angela? Why is she the one who puts him on his path?
Why, that's because Angela is a symbol for youth. She reminds him of what it was like to be young and happier and he fantasied what it would be like to be with her in order to regain that. She was his catalyst and speaking of catalysts, she isn't the only one. Another catalyst is Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). He's the only one in the movie that has truly found themselves. He's what Lester wants to be, but Lester doesn't mold himself after Ricky. Ricky is a guy who appreciates life for what it is and goes on recording life in order to capture it, to keep it for his own. Ricky knows who he is, he appreciates the beauty in life and he sees it as a whole. Lester just wants to see the beauty in the smaller things, thigns normal people take for granted that he once and this ideology is one we can't say the rest of the characters in the film follow. Lester's wife is obsessed with appearances and it rules her life as she spirals downward into her work because she wants to be on top, she wants to appear picture perfect which can be seen in the way she keeps her home, her work mantras and her obsession with material things. Lester's daughter is also obsessed with appearances, but more so her outward appearance because she hasn't accepted the beauty within herself. The same goes for Angela, who unlike Lester's daughter, puts on a front that she accepts herself, when she really has not. These characters, with the exception of Ricky, are all paper thin. They have a lot of backstory, exposition behind their choices and etc, but they're merely exaggerated, stereotypical tropes of characters that we see time and time again in the media or know in our real lives who's only job is to prove a point. They're so paper thin in order for us to recognize the tropes and relate our lives to them and how we've seen them before, but when we look closer at their quick-witted dialogue, dark jokes and other misadventures, it is only then that we see the irony, hurt and humanness in their words, which touch the viewer. And it's not until they step out of this box and become more than a trope that they really begin to become people and when they begin to feel joy about the small things in life and realize that happiness and joy isn't just a feeling from material things or being successful, but an experience that comes from being yourself and being comfortable with that and thus, happy, when it is a thing most people take for granted and that motif is expressed in the brilliant acting and writing.
Everything in this movie was created for a reason. Every sentence intriguing and though provoking, each song provokes a feeling and every joke or humorous aspect is used to break up the sad reality of what's going on in the film and I could go on-and-on about this for days, but that would take too long. The purpose of this film is about joy. Does true joy really exist? Can we truly be happy? And what sparks the need for change in an unhappy life? In Lester's case, it was Angela. In his daughter's, it is Ricky and but the fact that the director took his time to ask these questions and provoke such a response proves that this is one worth seeing and not only that, but like me, this movie may change your life. Whether it be with it's tragic ending and how it relates to the themes, the themes themselves, it's visual beauty or it's internal beauty, this movie will move you. It will make you do as the DVD says: Look closer.