Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari, Thora Birch
and Wes Bentley
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Kevin Spacey chats about AB HERE
Beauty opens with a light hearted narrative of Lester Burnham
(Kevin "Mr. Talent To You-Buddy"
Spacey) introducing us to his average life in his average
town. With Spacey's signature diabolically normal voice we just
know this place is gonna make Amityville seem quaint.
The Burnham's have nice enough neighbors...on the outside.
Each with their own eggshell existence mixed with all the trendy
little trimmings such families buy themselves to forget their
lives. To fit in. Or to just show off. You know all those fancy
electronic, motorized, and material "toys" meant to
quell the boredom of a dizzying dull suburban lifestyle. However,
as the American Beauty ads hint; 'Look Closer.'
Lester's un-loving wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening) is an anal retentive
bitch hag without a droplet of joy in her pseudo-yuppy life. She's
hell bent on moving up in her profession and is losing her grip,
quickly. She tries to hypnotize herself into external power via
a zillion perpetually running motivational tapes. When that doesn't
work she sleeps with the competition to learn more. The all American
The happy Burnham family includes an offspring, Jane (Thora Birch).
Jane's depressed, pouty teenager with a Wednesday (of The Addams
Family) look. She's normal enough and complete with that edge
of melancholy so 'in' with the youngins.' You know, that 'why
am I alive' type personality. She's about to meet the equally
quirky boy of her dreams. An odd boy with a video camera used
as if a prosthesis of his arm. Enter Ricky Fitts (Wes 'going places'
Bentley) a dark, lanky, staring, deeply moody drug dealer from
next door. Just perfect.
Around the same time, Lester, is growing tired of the being everybody's
little do-boy. He works a stressful sellout job, doesn't make
any waves with his totalitarian wife and hostile daughter, and
basically has no fun whatsoever. Lester has developed the spine
of a shrimp over the years and he's over it. Not so much a mid-life
crisis, but a realization that this is not the life he had intended.
An example of just how Dullsville USA his life has become? Well,
Lester snookies up in an attempt to play hide the knackwurst with
Carolyn and she screams about the mess it would make on their
hoity-toity couch. Not good.
Enter the straw that is about to shape up Lester's back. Daughter
Jane's friend Angela (Mena Suvari), a model want to be who looks
like a cast member from 'That Seventies Show.' Lester starts having
erotic fantasies about the mini-breasted little beauty. The movies
spicing up. Yummy.
Lester goes so far as to eavesdrop on the girls at a slumber party.
He hears Angela admit she finds ponch bellied Lester sexy and
wishes he had more muscles. Daughter Jane vomits, dad Lester freaks.
It's into the garage to buff up for the old boy. Be calm my pounding
Lester starts to change his mediocre life. Starts to love himself
(which he does quite frequently wink-nudge) and regain some self
respect, and quite a physique. Humma-humma. His loving family
goes into shock.
All the while, the paranoid extremo neighbor, Colonel Fitts (Chris
Cooper), AKA Ricky's dad, is peeking into places he ought to stay
clear of. Seeing things that just aint right. Fitts is a grade
A type asshole. The quintessential ex-marine who's driven his
family apart with an iron fist. This Colonel Fitt's guy comes
complete with a catatonic wife, Barbara (Allison Janney in a complete
metamorphosis) who looks like she stepped out of an O'Neill play
(Mary Tyrone-'Long Days Journey Into Night') and son Ricky, winner
of the coveted 'Pot Dealer 99'. The Colonel is basically head
nut in a big old can o' mixed nuts. Never trust a man with no
lips is all I have to say.
Spacey has lips. Nice firm smoochable lips. He really has a colossal
...um..talent. He gives the illusion he strolls on set, sips his
cafe latte, rests his jacket on a chair, joins the others for
a bit of verbal sparing then as smoothly as he entered the scene
he departs without a bead of sweat on his manly receding forehead.
Spacey actually played a character very similar to Lester, back
before fame, in a little seen The Ref. While the character's
are very similar, it's by no means the same movie. American
Beauty is much deeper. Spacey usually delivers, here's no
exception (Oscar buzz in decibels).
The twists in AB are quite fun. The dialog seems real and
driven. Alan Ball's screenplay is a great dissection of the American
facade. There is a tad of plot telegraphing sprinkled in, I'm
thinking that's because he doesn't trust the audience to figure
it out. Hey remember some of these same people thought Big
Daddy was comedy. Nuff said? Or perhaps it's Ball's TV lineage
shining through. But the caliber of acting and the cinematography
(Conrad Hall) is so strong most will find that a mute point-I
Director Sam Mendes comes from theater and approached this filming
in his forte; with group readings each delving into faux character
histories, together with the whole camaraderie theater actors
tend to thrive on. The movie shines for it.
By the way the very final seen has such a heart breaking-retching-touching-intestine
churner, you better pack some tissues. I aint gonna give it away.
Buck up. I willl just say Hag-snarus-Rex Carolyn finally discovers
what is really important in life-no not the new Playboy or Playgirl
issue either. It's a middle aged putz who has gone and found himself,
named Lester. Sniff
Snack recommendation: Asparagus with butter sauce