American Beauty (1999) – Sam Mendes

 

The next title up in the Drama genre for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is the Academy Award Winning American Beauty directed by Sam Mendes. The film went home with a Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay.

Spacey plays Lester Burnham in this suburban drama that is a microcosm for the modern world, as Burnham experiences a mid-life crisis, leads a sexually frustrating existence with his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), can’t connect with his daughter, Jane (Thora Birch) and becomes infatuated with his daughter’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari).

Set against a picture perfect suburbia that could be anywhere, the film was the first drama that really spoke to me. In fact, this was one of the first dramas I saw in the theater because I wanted to. I had been making a point, when this film came out, to make sure I saw all the Best Picture nominees no matter the genre, but this was the first one that really wowed me.

Spacey is amazing in this film. His Lester Burnham is a loser, but there is also a relatablilty to his character that reaches out to the viewer as he slowly sheds his past life, and becomes someone new.

 

With a fantastic supporting cast including Wes Bentley as the odd, new kid, Ricky, who supplies Lester with a relaxing drug fix, while shooting videos, including those of Jane. Chris Cooper is Ricky’s father, Colonel Fitts, who is angry and homophobic, though may in fact be closeted, and Allison Janney is his disconnected mother, who seems put upon and broken.

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Scott Bakula, Peter Gallagher and Sam Robards round out the folks in the neighborhood, with Robards and Bakula being a smart, friendly couple and Gallagher is a local real estate king, who begins his own seduction of Carolyn while Lester fantasizes about Angela.

Sharp writing, incredible casting, and a perfect pace made this film stand out when it first came out, and here, seventeen years later, the film is still a brilliant watch.

The young are disillusioned, their elders are lost, and the world, though beautiful, is so flawed because none of them are happy, trapped in their own upbringing, prejudices, and perceived constraints of society, misperceptions, they lie to themselves and each other, but slowly, Lester begins to eschew all of these things. And the consequences resound through his life, and those around him.

The film is nothing short of a perfect drama, character arcs, performances, pacing and the craftsmanship that brings it all to life. It’s a wonderfully made film, and a stunning experience that still has the power to affect the viewer.

I loved revisiting this one, and looking forward to see what comes up for the recommendations.

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