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