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   AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) 

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CAST
Kevin Spacey
Annette Bening
Thora Birch
Wes Bentley
Mena Suvari
Peter Gallagher
Chris Cooper
Allison Janney
Scott Bakula

DIRECTED BY
Sam Mendes

PURCHASE


DVD



Score




Time: 121 mins.
Rating: R
Official Web Site
Genre: Drama

Won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Spacey), Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Picture. Nominated for Best Actress (Bening), Editing and Score.


After I saw this film, it took me a week to get my thoughts together. This isn't a film everyone will like. It took me a long time to come around. It's a powerful story with an intense message that, frankly, quite disturbed me. It also made me laugh out loud, which is not easy with subject matter like this. Mainly because it focuses on a side of life we would all like to never come to light – the struggle for happiness in an imperfect world. What's hard about watching this movie, is that the characters are people you see all the time, ones who lost their sense of self somewhere along the way. They're all miserable, trying to play the roles set out for them – father, mother, daughter, the popular girl – and no one is satisfied. However, everyone plays along...for a while anyway.

Lester's (Spacey) life is not going well. His wife ignores him, his daughter despises him, and he's about to lose his job of 15 years. However, none of that matters after he sets eyes on Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), one of his daughter's friends. His attentive behavior around her embarrasses his daughter Jane (Thora Birch). To win Angela's heart, he starts working out, trying to become a man worthy of her love. For her part, Angela is amused by Lester's behavior. She enjoys her power over men. It's no wonder he's turned to fantasy over reality.

He and his wife Carolyn (Bening) haven't had sex in ages and she's so wrapped up in her own feelings of self-hate she doesn't even notice...at first. Lester's problems, at least from his own point of view, seem to resolve themselves for the better, however, the women in his life would grossly disagree. He jumps head-first into his mid-life crisis and enjoys every unemployed minute. With a little help from the neighbor boy, his life becomes a complete ride of self gratification. He becomes the man of the house again and this time, he's going to stay on top. He doesn't even care that his wife and daughter find solace in the arms of other men.


"I feel like I've been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I'm just now waking up."

This is his life and he's going to live it on his own terms. Unfortunately for him, there are plenty of people more than willing to end his moment in the sun. When he finally gets the chance to make his dream come true, he finds that the dream was enough, that it was the yearning that made it all worthwhile. The chance to feel confident and important again was what made him happy. For the women in his life, their family is coming apart and neither of them has the energy or desire to stop it. When all is said and done, Jane and Carolyn end up with mixed results. Jane finds someone who truly understands her and finds her to be the most beautiful creature on Earth. Carolyn discovers that she loved and needed Lester more than she imagined. This is a film that ends well for some, depending on how you look at it, and horribly for others. It's a trip into suburbia you won't soon forget.

All I can say is, though the script and the direction were wonderful, this film would have been nothing without the performances of Spacey, Bening, Birch, Suvari and Bentley. You think that you've seen these characters before, but they will all surprise you in ways you can't imagine. Spacey is going to need a U-Haul to cart away all the awards he SHOULD win for this performance. He is one of the best actors we've got, pouring himself into every character he plays, making them all unique and extremely interesting human beings. Bening is bitterly funny, giving her best performance since THE GRIFTERS. I will personally be on the lookout for what Birch, Suvari and Bentley do next. These are three very talented young actors, who have the potential to do great things in the future. AMERICAN BEAUTY is not always an easy film to watch, but it will keep you riveted to your seat.


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