Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Movie Review: American Beauty

Kevin Spacey has a knack for appearing in the type of movies that I particularly enjoy: The Ref, Seven, The Usual Suspects, Swimming With Sharks, and now American Beauty. The film follows Lester Burnham (Spacey), a burnt-out, bored, depressed, self- titled "loser", who experiences a reawakening inspired by his teenage daughter Jane's (Thora Birch) seemingly promiscuous teenage friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). His newfound youthfulness leads him to address many of the issues that have been plaguing him: his thankless job, his "joyless" wife (Annette Bening), and his distant daughter. Meanwhile, a new family moves in next door to the Burnhams: Retired Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper), his bizzare, catatonic wife (Allison Janey), and their enigmatic son, Ricky (Wes Bentley). The two families' lives begin to intertwine, primarily through Ricky and Jane.

Typically, movie taglines are extraordinarily lame. But American Beauty's, "Look Closer," is as apt as the film itself. It encourages you to, yes, look closer at the seemingly average American suburban family - and see just how average they're not. It examines what the world sees versus what really goes on behind the closed red front door of the Burnham house. These are real people, with real problems - and this exists behind every door on every home. This film unflinchingly explores many domestic issues: violence, apathy, disenchanted children, affairs.

Acting: Tremendous, especially Spacey and Wes Bentley.
Directing: A superb job for first time film director Sam Mendes, a theater veteran. Unique visual style, with help from cinematographer Conrad Hall.
Writing: Also superb for first time feature writer Alan Ball, a sitcom veteran ('Cybil', 'Oh Grow Up')
Music: Amazing score by Thomas Newman

I urge you, if you haven't seen it, look closer.

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