Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Best Picture: "American Beauty," 1999

Movie Stats:
Released 1999 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Sam Mendes
Stars – Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, and many others

Plot Summary:
It’s the story of suburban malaise and mid-life crisis. Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, the unhappy suburbanite; Bening as his equally unhappy wife, Caroline; and Birch as their disaffected teenaged daughter Jane.

Copious amounts of blue language; fairly graphic sexy times; nudity (male butt, female breasts); violence, including child abuse; and drug use.

Bad Stuff:
Some of the dialogue felt stiff but I don’t think it was the dialogue itself, which is actually excellent. I think it was the line delivery. Sometimes it felt more like a play than a movie.

The rose petal stuff is weird. To me it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the film.

I could see where some people would find it slow and/or boring. I personally don’t feel that way, but I can see such a criticism.

Good Stuff:
Kevin Spacey knocks this one out of the park. He manages to make Lester immensely likable, despite the fact that he’s a pervy skeezball. He nails every facial expression perfectly (I especially love his “long-suffering misery” face). A lot has already been said about him – he won Best Actor – but I don’t think enough has been said about Bening. She is amazing with her barely suppressed rage and forced cheerfulness. I loved her as much as I loathed her character.

I love the dialogue. There are so many great one-liners and snappy comebacks.

The story is so relatable. There is something in it for everyone. It’s about figuring out who you are, whether you’re a teenager at the threshold of adulthood, or an adult who has only just realized that life didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, or an adult who realizes that you’ve never truly allowed yourself to be who you want to be. It’s about the beauty of life, and how wrong it is to turn a blind eye to that beauty.

The Verdict:
I saw this in the theater when it first came out and absolutely loved it. However, I hadn’t seen it since. I was a bit wary. So many movies don’t age well. I thought it entirely possible that it might not seem as good the second time around.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. I still love this movie. It’s brilliant. If you have ever, even once, even for a tiny second, looked around at your life and wondered how, exactly, it turned out the way it did, you should like this film. It’s an unflinching look at the dark side of American – specifically suburban American – life and it’s very well done. No one is the bad guy here; everyone is just an ordinary person trying to get by and find a little happiness. I find it tremendously moving.

I give the movie 4.75 stars.


Patricia said...

Oh thank goodness. Because I saw it (more than once) in the theater too and loved it and haven't seen it since because I too was scared it wouldn't hold up. There was so much I loved about this movie and that ending scene just killed me.

I also got into a huge argument with my mother about this movie because, though she never actually watched it, she felt that Annette Bening's character was too much of a bitch. I argued that if she watched the movie things would be rounded out and she would see a fuller picture, which would put Annette Bening in context. I failed to convince her.

There are a tremendous amount of incredible actors in this. And Lester Burnham is a perfectly awesome name.

balyien said...

I think it's really easy, if you've only seen scenes or previews of the movie, to hate Annette Bening's character. You have to see the whole film to understand her. And once you do, you can't really hate her, because you get why she is the way she is.

This movie is nearly perfect. Definitely one of my top 10 winners.