(Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari,
Wes Bentley; directed by Sam Mendes)
by Gerry Wang
AMERICAN BEAUTY is quite simply the best movie of the year. It touched
me deep down inside, and was remarkably inspirational. The moral message of this
Oscar-lock is powerful and profound. It is something that pertains to all of us in
America, young and old, rich and poor, black or Mexican.
AMERICAN BEAUTY tells us to live life the way we want to, because you
never know when all this will end. Sure, we bitch and moan about our lot in life.....
bills, school, hoes, jobs, careers, grades, AIDS, etc. But we should stand back and look
at Earth for what it is. Earth is God's gift to us.
Is there anything more beautiful than life? Look around you. Look at
the intracacies of a simple leaf on a tree. It's a freakin leaf, but it's also a highly
evolved network of veins and conduits for nutrients. Look at your dog. It's an animal. But
it's got a soul. It's a living, breathing entity just like yourself. If you cut it, it
bleeds the same blood that you bleed. God is in everything. We are all Earth.
So why do you destroy Earth? Why do we make life misery? Why do we go
to bed stressed out, only to wake up and pile on more stress by going to school or going
to our menial jobs. Is this the way we want to celebrate our life? Life is precious. Why
waste it on shit like school and stupid jobs? Why sacrifice happiness?
But AMERICAN BEAUTY is also a precautionary tale about the routine life
in suburbia. You know, where the dad is an office worker like Dilbert and the mom is also
a career woman. The daughter is rebellious, going through those awkward high school years.
It's the typical American family. The mom's part of the PTA, and they attend games to
watch their kid doing cheerleading. Sounds like bliss right? The American dream to have
2.5 kids, a 2 story house, a steady job, white picket fence. But is it really bliss?
It's easy to get stuck in a rut. Every day you do the same routine. You
wake up after not fucking your wife for months. You take a shower, you jerk off. You eat
breakfast while your daughter (who used to be your best friend) sulks and pouts. Then you
go to the office and your boss chews you out. You swallow it, and you go home and eat
dinner, where no one talks to you. Just eating. Then you go to bed w/o fucking your wife
again. And the next day, you repeat this process. Is this really the American dream?
AMERICAN BEAUTY follows a few days in the life of the Burnham family.
Lester (Kevin Spacey) is the mild-mannered, rat race Dad. Carolyn (Annette Bening) is the
overworked Mom who's lost her spark in life. Both Lester and Carolyn are having mid-life
crises. They love each other, yet hate each other's guts. The Burnhams look like the ideal
American family on the surface. But underneath, there's tremendous tension bubbling and
coming to a head.
One night, while watching their daughter (I forgot her freakin name,
but she's played by Thora Birch) perform during a b-ball game, Lester sees his daughter's
best friend prancing alongside his daughter (I forgot her freakin name too, but she's
played by Mena Suvari of AMERICAN PIE) and something is awakened in him. He rediscovers a
zest for life, and it's all motivated by his lust for a teenager.
Anyways, Lester has an epiphany and starts living his life the way he
wants. He quits his boring job. He starts working out. He smokes pot w/ the enigmatic new
next door neighbor's kid. He disses his cold wife. He jerks off in bed in front of his
wife. He doesn't give a shit. He just wants to be happy. He just wants to live life to its
fullest, rather than be held back by societal restraints.
Lester is one of the few cinematic tragic figures who truly got me
right there in the heart. We know he's gonna die. He says so in the beginning of the
movie. We know exactly when it's gonna happen. But during the moments that it's building
up to the climax, your heart is absolutely wrought w/ sympathy and sorrow. You identify w/
Lester, or at least I did, because we both are the same type of people.
We both don't really stand up for ourselves. We let people tell us what
to do. We take other's shit, and just brush it aside and smile. I'm a meek person. I know
exactly what Lester's going through. So when he was about to die, my heart just sank in
pity, yet also in a little bit of relief. Because now Lester can be one w/ the Earth
again. He can be God's child once more, and go away from this horrible Hell we call
If Kevin Spacey doesn't get nominated for an Oscar, then I'm boycotting
movies for the rest of my life. He did such a good job playing a nerdy loser who all of a
sudden gains a direction in life. We are rooting our asses off for Lester by the end of
the movie. Annette Bening also deserves a supporting nomination for her portrayal of a
woman who's just a husk of the vibrant person she used to be. The way Carolyn punished
herself for losing a client and cheating on her husband..... wow, I felt so sorry for her.
But it was Wes Bentley's performance as Ricky, the next door neighbor's
kid, that truly surprised me. I'd never heard of this Joaquin Phoenix dead ringer, but
shit, he was such a great personification of AMERICAN BEAUTY's morality.
What morality, you ask? Lester's awakened by statutory rape?
Pedophilia? Ricky is a drug dealer. His dad is a homophobe. We see both Thora Birch's and
Mena Suvari's breasts. Are they even 18 yet? That AMERICAN BEAUTY manages to be so
effective and powerful despite it's dark humor and twistedness is a testament to great
writing and great directing.
Sam Mendes does a great job directing. You don't even notice that he's
behind the camera. But the framing of all the scenes and the use of color and imagery was
all by the hands of the director. It was like watching an American family through hidden
cameras. Everything felt natural, and the flow of the movie was so fluid that 2 hours just
seemed to vanish.
When the movie ends and we're finally released from its spell, we look
at life differently. We want to be like Lester and take charge of our life. But we also
want to avoid his horrible horrible fate. AMERICAN BEAUTY is mesmerizing, and a must-see
for those who have higher intelligence. It's one of the smartest movies of the year.
Babe-o-meter: 3- (You might be wondering which chick I liked most. Thora Birch has big
breasts, but she's nasty looking. Mena Suvari was much sexier before we saw her naked. But
it was Annette Bening who totally looked like a good lay in bed).