American Beauty

Anglican Journal, November 1999 | Go to article overview

American Beauty


American Beauty

Directed by Sam Mendes Starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening **** (out of five) Warning: coarse language and sexually explicit scenes.

IF YOU'RE EASILY offended, find frank discussions and depictions of sexuality hard to deal with, or watch only family oriented movies, then American Beauty is not a film for you. But if you're interested in an exploration of the dark side of affluence in North American suburban life, in a biting satire laced with an absence of and longing for spirituality, then this critically acclaimed film directed by Sam Mendes from an original script by Alan Ball is a must see.

With stunning but highly mannered performances by Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, American Beauty focuses on the life of a family in an unnamed suburb in somewhere U.S.A. Lester Burnham (Spacey) is a 42-year-old whose life has come to mean nothing. Bored in a job, isolated within his marriage, every day for him goes downhill after the refreshment of his morning shower.

His wife Carolyn (Bening) has the energy of a Martha Stewart on amphetamines: she's a successful and ambitious real-estate salesperson, focused on her career and enjoying her suburban home, the high-priced furniture and her Mercedes Benz SUV.

Their daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is an unhappy teen, who describes her father's leering glances at her girlfriend as "gross," and although surrounded by creature comforts, is fundamentally unhappy and insecure. When they're at the dinner table, director Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L Hall capture an American Gothic horror -- all the beauty that money can buy, but no relationship, no communication, no intimacy, no home.

Into this neighbourhood comes a new family with a teenage son, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who sees the world through his video camera. He's a strange kid with a history of mental illness, he's the local drug dealer, his father's a retired marine captain who's never really left the corps and his mother's virtually catatonic, drugged or depressed, or maybe both (it's hard to tell). …

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