Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

American Beauty

So I have been trying to watch more Kevin Spacey films in an attempt to re-correct the fact that I've barely seen anything with him in it. American Beauty is naturally one of those films I've known about for a long time, but the basic premise of "suburban folks unhappy with their lives do silly things" never really appealed to me. However, the driving force behind me watching this film is actually moe. That's also one of the reasons I would never have had the nerve to watch this movie when I was younger or ask my dad to buy it for me. 

Don't know what moe is? Well, we all know some of the images famously associated with this movie. Nude underaged girl who's more *ahem* interesting features are covered by rose petals. Extreme close-up of possibly the same girl holding a rose by her belly button. That, more or less, is moe. When I saw the Blu-ray for this movie in Wal-Mart last week or maybe the week before last I took a look at the cover and figured what the hell? The woman on the cover is eye-catching and Kevin Spacey is in it, too. The movie, that is. Might as well get it and watch it and see what's what.

This movie turned out to be right up my alley. For a few reasons. 

It's one of those movies that make the mundane more entertaining than it probably has a right to be. Or maybe it makes us realize that the mundane is in fact as far from mundane as it can be, but we just don't pay attention enough to the little details to care enough. Either way, it's an almost Seinfeld approach that a lot of movie-makers don't like using or just don't have the talent to use. Deftly making us laugh and groan in embarrassment at the same, American Beauty presents us with a glorious reflection of the everyday-ness of home life, but does so in an almost cold and calculating manner. Indeed, it reminds me in some ways of when I watched The Truman Show for the first time. Sure, everything looks normal and it is presented as if it very well should be normal, but that actually gives the movie a little bit of a gritty edge because what's normal is in fact the furthest thing from normal. That's tough to portray in film because it relies more on atmosphere and pacing than it does on anything else. 

The only thing breaking the mood every now and then are the trips into the surreal via the journey into the lives of the neighbors next door or the increasingly humourous visions of his daughter's smoking hot best friend seen by Kevin Spacey's hopeless character Lester Burnham. 

I won't ever view rose petals quite the same way.

While watching this movie I began to feel that Lester Burnham was my personal hero. That is probably a sad admission, but hey, I did keep thinking that I would probably be just like him in twenty years. Assuming I worked at somewhere other than where I am now by then, of course. Can't afford suburbia on a cook's pay. If by then I were to suddenly lose my mind and go through a midlife crisis then I pray I will be able to make Lester Burnham proud. 

Annette Bening is really good as Carolyn Burnham and she serves as a great counterweight to Kevin Spacey. While Spacey really does steal the movie, Annette's character Carolyn has a charm of her own (even though I still intensely disliked her... although that could very well be my inner chauvinist coming out) and we at least see her side when it probably could have been much easier to avoid that. Her struggles are not without motive or merit and we see that Lester is indeed not the only one struggling with their marriage.

I was admittedly surprised to see Chris Cooper (playing the ultra uptight conservative former US Marine Corps neighbor perfectly) in this movie, though. Not that I have anything against him or his performances because he really nails his characters well. It's just that this movie reminded me of the fact that I don't think I have ever seen him smile. I mean, I haven't seen him in a lot of things so I have a narrow scope for judgement here, but has he ever played someone who actually smiles? As to why his presence actually surprised me... it's probably because I wasn't expecting for any of the neighbors to have prominent roles or even pivotal plot-changing roles. 

Alan Ball should get some mention, too. While I think his screenplay was originally much more sarcastic and dark before it fell into the hands of Sam Mendes, there's certainly no denying that Ball crafted a gem. The optimism that made its way into the movie made it better, no doubt, but I am curious as to just what it would have been like if Ball's original screenplay had made it to screen. 

Unfortunately, I think this screenplay may have drained him of ideas. Aside from some involvement in True Blood TV series and another movie called Towelhead (which he also directed), I don't think he has done much else. 

Lastly, I want to mention the director himself Sam Mendes. Well, I kind of just did when I mentioned Alan Ball above, but I want to do it again. This was his debut effort in the chair. Pretty damn good debut, I say. He would later go on to direct Skyfall, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, and Road to Perdition. I've only seen one of those (Road to Perdition), but I should probably watch the others. Just so I can see what the guy has to offer because I really don't know much else about him.

Haven't seen this? Watch the movie. Like me, you may find yourself developing a sudden rose petal moe afterwards. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. It won't kill you or anything. 

Or... well, never mind. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved this flick. I love a good character driven movie but you really need a great script and great acting for them to work good and this one delivers. You can look at this film so many different ways (and not be wrong). It works as satire or just straight commentary on how empty our existence is or both or many other ways. I've seen it a few times and always come away with a little different view every time I see it.

    Wes Bently, the young weed smoking guy from next door is very good in this too. He's had a couple of good roles but I think he got derailed by drug abuse not long after this flick and struggled for a long time. I've been seeing him again the past couple of years. He was in Dolan's Cadillac.