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American Beauty (1999)

DVD Cover (DreamWorks)
Genres:
Comedy Drama, Coming-Of-Age, Family Drama, Tragi-Comedy
Director:
Sam Mendes Sam Mendes
Starring:
Kevin Spacey Kevin Spacey
Annette Bening Annette Bening
Thora Birch Thora Birch
Wes Bentley Wes Bentley
Mena Suvari Mena Suvari

8.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: August 31, 2007
There have been a lot of ridiculous lists and polls circulating around the internet, naming the most overrated films ever made, and for some insane reason -- "American Beauty" is on pretty much every single one. Should we be forgetting the fact that the film was on virtually every Top Ten List in 1999? Should we be forgetting that the film won an incredible five Academy Awards, including Best Picture? Should we be forgetting that the film was also a commercial success, grossing well over $100 million at the box office? Overrated. Whenever a film becomes too successful, people like to shoot it down, like "Forrest Gump" or "The Blair Witch Project" -- once a film goes so far, it has no place to go but down, according to some people. I disagree. This film is a masterpiece.

Suburbia comes to life in haunting and darkly comedic ways in "American Beauty", the first mainstream feature film from the great Sam Mendes. Kevin Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, a middle-aged father who has a dead end job and no prospects, because he's stuck in a rut. His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening) has just started out in real estate and is having an affair with Buddy Kane, 'The King' (Peter Gallagher). His daughter, Jane (Thora Birch) hates her life and has struck an odd friendship with their neighbor, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who likes filming bizarre imagery because he says it's 'beautiful'. Eventually, Lester develops a crush on Angela (Mena Suvari), the friend of his daughter, and he starts taking his own personal happiness into his own hands, quitting his job and changing not only his attitude but his whole perspective on life.

Modeled sharply after "Ordinary People", "American Beauty" really comes alive in the dinner scenes, where the whole family is sitting around the table, trying to function like a normal family when it is so obvious they cannot. This has been duplicated several times since the release of this film. These characters come alive in their odd unhappiness, as no one seems to be where they want to be. I love the bizarre relationship between Jane and Ricky, and I especially love everything that has to do with Ricky's parents (Chris Cooper and Allison Janney). The Chris Cooper character figures in chiefly to the ending of the film, and I hope that's not saying too much, since I am writing on the assumption that most people who read this will have seen the film before now. "American Beauty" begins by telling you how it is going to end, yet it still manages to keep the surprises coming.

Now, let's talk production value. Thomas Newman's score is absolutely mesmerizing, and one of the best film scores of recent memory -- it perfectly captures the essence of Lester's character as he goes about his strange transformation throughout the course of the film. The cinematography by Conrad L. Hall is brilliant, and it's nice to see him at work again, since he takes such long hiatus' from time to time. He knows how capture a mood and run with it and he films dramatic confrontation better than any other D.O.P. working in the business today. But, it's the direction of Sam Mendes that keeps "American Beauty" on track, because he knows just when to shift the balance between humor and tragedy. He has his finger on the pulse of audience response and he manipulates them like a puppeteer.

On to the performances. This is the best performance of Kevin Spacey's career, and yes I have seen "The Usual Suspects", and boy is that film overrated. This is his best performance because he takes this character on one hell of an emotional journey from beginning to end, and he really makes us like Lester, even when he is doing what we would normally deem suspect. Annette Bening is equally formidable as Carolyn, and her scene at the end of the film, in the bedroom, is just breath taking. She was robbed of her Oscar. Wes Bentley makes a fine debut in this film and really shows his range, as do Chris Cooper and Allison Janney, in smaller but very important roles. Even Peter Gallagher is hysterical in his brief performance as 'The King', also production one of the funniest lines from any mainstream movie ever -- "Fuck Me, Your Majesty!"

Overrated? Ha! I love how the very best movies are consistently called overrated by people who probably spend most of their money watching Adam Sandler movies. Overrated? Tell that to history, which will define this film as a seminal 1990's movie experience, and a true classic. I love "American Beauty". It leaves you feeling something, and that's more than most films do these days. It's a masterpiece.

10/10.
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Chad #1: Chad - added 08/31/2007, 09:37 PM
Amen... I loved this movie.
Cryptorchild #2: Cryptorchild - added 08/31/2007, 11:23 PM
Finally we agree on something 100% bluemeanie...this movie is brilliant. I loved every minute of it.
Edd #3: Edd - added 09/01/2007, 08:43 PM
My absolute favorite movie of all time. No chance anything could ever top it. Sad, funny, dark, mysterious, peppy, bland, and dramatic, all in one.
Tristan #4: Tristan - added 09/15/2007, 01:55 PM
Couldn't agree with you more bluemeanie. Excellent movie. One of my favourites.
Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #5: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 12/21/2007, 10:03 AM
Well, I found this movie to be quite insufferable. I can't say what exactly it all is that annoys me to death, but just thinking about this movie makes me feel like someone is literally churning my brain into zombie butter.
3.5/10
BuryMeAlive #6: BuryMeAlive - added 01/29/2008, 05:35 PM
After watching it for like the 20th time, it's not a uber great as it once was. Still a great movie that everyone should see.
Shakes #7: Shakes - added 01/22/2009, 12:39 PM
How does one not like this movie? :/

American Beauty. it's all in the same An instant classic, really. To call it a masterpiece would be an understatement. 10/10 with a rose petal
Shakes #8: Shakes - added 01/22/2009, 12:40 PM
^American Beauty - it's all in the name*
Crispy #9: Crispy - added 02/08/2010, 04:46 PM
I couldn't get into it. There was just so many overly dysfunctional people thrown together that it seemed more like caricatures than anything else.
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