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American Beauty

American 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. 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 way, no?

The happy Burnham family includes an offspring, Jane (Thora Birch). A depressed, pouty teenager with a Wednesday (of Addams Family) look. She's normal enough with that edge of melancholy so 'in' with the youngins'-you know, that 'why am I alive' 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 heart.

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.

Kevin Spacey has lips. Nice firm smoochable lips. He really has a colossal 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 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 did.

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

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari, Thora Birch and Wes Bentley
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Snack recommendation: Asparagus with butter sauce

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