… sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in. ~ from American Beauty
So pleased to be watching this tour de force again for the challenge! From 1999, American Beauty scored with five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay for Alan Ball, Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, Best Director Sam Mendes, and Best Cinematography for Conrad L. Hall.
Rated R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content, this is not a film for the kiddies.
Alan Ball went on to produce and pen scripts for the acclaimed HBO series’ Six Feet Under and True Blood on HBO. I never watched Six Feet Under, but did watch all of True Blood. Alan is not one to skirt around the issues. He can talk about the hard stuff, things no one else wants to discuss or acknowledge.
Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a 42-year-old businessman with a super driven career wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and a teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Their home is not so perfect as the décor and civility might suggest to the outside eye. Lester is reaching a midlife crisis, Carolyn despairs of ever being as great a real estate agent as Buddy Kane, (Peter Gallagher), and Jane is at a defiant awkward stage in high school.
Big changes happen when the house next door is sold to a new family. Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) is an 18 year old who attends high school with Jane and her bff Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). Ricky’s father, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) and his nearly catatonic wife Barbara (Allison Janney), make for a strange couple.
In many respects, this is an ensemble cast, even though only Kevin won the acting award. The three teens are brilliant in his or her roles, as is everyone. Chris Cooper especially gives it his all as the abusive ex military man. If I could give them all awards I would. This has to be one of my top favorite films. The writing is superb; the color resolution and the visuals in the fantasy sequences are outstanding. Interesting to note that Lester has a voice over, an uncommon choice in film.
When it first came out, a friend of mine with a teenage girl saw it and was really disturbed by Lester’s infatuation with Angela. I can understand that, and that is exactly why it was brought forward in the film. Lester has some decisions to make. Ricky stays focused on the beauty of the world, even when it is ugly (what most people would see as ugly). The rosebushes Carolyn nourishes with eggshells and Miracle Grow, the faded roses on her shirt at the dinner table, and the bright rose petals in Lester’s fantasies all serve to tie the theme of American Beauty together.
If you haven’t seen it and want to see a really fine all around production based on a great screenplay, this is it.