American Beauty still remains to be one of the most thoughtful, controversial, and brilliantly executed films of all film history. After multiple views, the inner meaning and surreal approach to conveying this meaning become more cogent and true to real life's dysfunctions. Through the expert performances, intelligent script-writing, and visionary direction by Sam Mendes, American Beauty becomes as overwhelmingly beautiful as it seeks to be.
PLOT: Middle-aged man, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), is stuck in a rut in life. He's gotten in the same routine of fighting to keep the job he hates, being pushed around by his striving-for-success wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and being hated by his angst-y teenage daughter, Jane (Thora Birch). Things change when Lester attends a high school basketball game to see Jane cheer and falls for Jane's preppy best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). Lester vicariously begins to recapture his youth by fantasizing about Angela before starting to physically and mentally change his life. He quits his job, starts smoking pot, starts to work out, and fights against his wife's bossy attitude. Meanwhile, Jane starts to unknowingly fall for the new neighbor, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), who has an eye for the beauty in life and loves to film it. Ricky also starts selling pot to Lester against the wishes of Ricky's militaristic father, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper), who is led to believe his son performs homosexual acts for cash. Carolyn, during all of this as well, begins to have an affair with a past lover (Peter Gallagher) as to restore her lost backbone. The plot is very bizarre, intricate, and executed professionally. Every event in this film fits together like a piece of a very beautiful, complicated puzzle. Through this execution, it becomes evident how much intelligent development was put into the overall composition of the film. Just a in a well-crafted novel, everything is developed intentionally.
ACTING: The performances in this film are all done excellently and accurately, with the actors matching their roles perfectly. Both Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening deliver iconic and believable performances of a couple who's marriage is quickly falling apart. As both characters grow in the film, the audience feels that the struggles are as real to the actors as they are in the film. Thora Birch and Wes Bentley also deliver a realistic performance as the angst-y teen and visionary outcast. The two bring a unique approach to the idea of a real teenage couple. All performances in this film are excellent; not one falls short of respect.
SCORE: The score is very unique and quirky by awesome score composer, Thomas Newman. The score only adds to the film's feeling of being surrealistically beautiful. The soundtrack is just as memorable and fitting as the score, adding classic rock poster songs like “The Seeker” and “American Woman” and interesting covers from Annie Lennox (“Don't Let It Bring You Down”) and Elliot Smith (“Because”).
OTHER CONTENT: Everything about this is film is intelligent and beautiful in its own imperfect way. Even with this being his first film, it's clear that director Sam Mendes knew what he was doing in making American Beauty. Through clean, expertly-filmed shots, his vision for this film is shown as well as the meaning. American Beauty serves its purpose as being what it's title declares, an American beauty. We are led through the story of the typical american attitudes in each character, conveyed by the presence of Lester's mid-life crisis and the lifestyles of the dysfunctional families (Burnham and Fitts). The beauty in the world is the imperfections we see, and that's what I perceive Mendes was trying to convey. As said in the script, just as intelligent as the film: ". . . it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."
Sam Mendes' first work still feels like just as much a masterpiece as he intended to be when he made it in 1999. American Beauty conveys beautiful America just as real as it can be, with realistic situations all connected as to prove this common point. Through expert performances, quirky score, intelligent scriptwriting, and visionary direction, this film remains true to at the very least one thing: its imperfect beauty.