"I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don't know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already."
Some critics say or write controversial things to get a lot of attention for their reviews. Me, I am not like that. My job is to tell you what is good about a movie, followed by what is bad about a movie and then wrap it up with whether or not I liked the whole production. And though I do believe Clueless is a masterpiece, I still do my best to not push the agenda of my personal favorite films. If Clueless is my most controversial choice for a masterpiece, its counterpart would be my most controversial choice for a piece of garbage. I hate American Beauty. Here is why....
I understand that American Beauty may be the most highly acclaimed film of the last twenty years, but I am still unable to see what the hype is about. The film works incredibly well on certain levels, but it falls flat overall. But it is only fair to go into the screws that hold this film together. The most notable screw in this film would have to be Kevin Spacey.
Spacey gives the performance of his life as Lester Burnham. In the early moments of the introduction, we learn that Burnham is going to die. His death may be a sweet escape from his disastrous home life. His wife is a "bloodless, money-grubbing freak." And his daughter is even worse. She is confused about how to be herself. Pretty standard teenage stuff, right? What makes things worse is that she does not hate her father. She feels sorry for him. She thinks he is pathetic. And he might be - seeing that the high points of his day consist of masturbating in the shower and fantasizing about sixteen year old girls.
Lester is a character that continuously flips our perspective on the plot. At first we laugh at how ridiculous his family problems seem on the outer layer. He is okay with us laughing at his pathetic life. After we dive more deeply into the story, our pride begins to hurt as we see him fall more and more into a mental state of pathetic self-loathing. It is a devastatingly emotional performance that won Spacey the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Maybe the greatest aspect of American Beauty, the art direction is out of this world. It would be difficult to find a film that is easier on eye than this one. In one of the most memorable scenes, Mena Suvari is swimming in a sea of dark and beautifully red roses. The red pops out from the screen in the most affective of ways. It could symbolize lust, death, blood, desire or a variety of other emotional color-triggers. This scene is perfectly complemented by the background score. We are listening to a score that creates a feeling of awkward sexuality. This is an interesting combination that Mendes works brilliantly.
With all of the being said, I hated American Beauty. I have watched this film eight times in my life, and I am yet to enjoy a single viewing. Why? I strongly believe that American Beauty is the single most pretentious and self-important film I have ever seen. Its self-insistence is rivaled only by its lack of entertainment value. And the pretentious stupidity hits the high point in the film's most famous moment.
Wes Bentley plays the mentally damaged Ricky Fitts. He films dead bodies, deals drugs and is not ordinary. He falls for Lester's daughter and shows her the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. What does he show her? A freakin' plastic bag that is blowing around in the wind. And we watch this scene in amazement for one of two reasons. Either we are pretending to see the nonexistent deep symbolism or we are dumbfounded by the stupidity of it all.
And though the ending is "shocking", I am at the point where I no longer care about the outcome. Roger Ebert says that a good film can never have too many scenes. I believe that American Beauty throws around superfluous filler in abundance. And though it is difficult to dismiss the efforts of a brilliant cast and director, a film should always be reviewed on its entertainment merits. In that case, American Beauty sucks.
American Beauty: D+
My Next Film...High School (Wiseman. 1968)