Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Beauty and the Box Office

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Beauty and the Box Office

Article excerpt

I went to see American Beauty, the movie I wrote, about a month after it had opened at a theater in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. I just bought my ticket and sat in the back; it was sold-out. Just sitting in that theater and watching how the crowd responded was really gratifying. This was a mainstream, regular audience, rowdy and ready to laugh at all the humor, no matter how dark it was.

And they went along with the movie no matter how gay it was. Everybody laughed when the gay neighbors, the two Jims, come over with their welcome basket to the Fittses' house and the right-wing Colonel (Chris Cooper) gets that look on his face as he realizes exactly what kind of "partners" they are. Then, in the scene in the garage near the end of the film when the Colonel kisses Lester (Kevin Spacey), there were some gasps, but no one in that theater went "E-e-ew!"--as we have all experienced in other movies with male-to-male kisses.

A lot of producers who rejected my script said, "This is too weird. Nobody's going to go see this." Too many producers think like marketers, looking for some sort of formula that will guarantee success. But it doesn't work that way. As I saw in that theater in Los Feliz, there's something sort of capricious and intangible that happens between a movie and an audience. You can't predict it with a formula.

I have to admit I've been sort of surprised by all the acclaim and attention American Beauty has received. Almost everybody I've ever known in my entire life has gotten in touch with me one way or another. People I don't know tell me how much the movie has moved them--a lot of them, I've noticed, are parents with small children. The negative response has mostly been laughable. One posting I read online said, "This movie is blatantly promoting homosexuality because, if you'll notice, whenever anybody is walking down the street, they're walking down the middle of the street, except for the two gay characters. They use the sidewalk. So obviously this movie is trying to tell us that homosexuality is normal." I just read that and thought, Oh, my God, what a freak.

It is true that the two Jims are easily the most well-adjusted people in the movie--and therefore the most boring. …

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