When you look at the Oscars and other important film awards in 1998, American Beauty is impossible to avoid. Sam Mendes, now a famous director, and then a debutant who switched from theater to film, brings us a top drama, a tragicomedy that has more clichés than it should, but which Alan Ball’s excellent screenplay fitted to their average viewers do not notice and do not understand as a minus.
The main protagonist of the film is Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged clerk who begins to reveal dissatisfaction with his idyllic, monotonous life of a well-to-do family man from the suburbs. His wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is burdened with work and they are estranged from each other, while her daughter Jane (Thora Birch), like every average teenager in the USA, hates her parents. A precedent in his life arises when he meets Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), his daughter’s school friend, who will be the cause of a big change in his life, he will resign and act like an irresponsible 20-year-old. Such changes must be reflected in the rest of the family. The daughter gets in touch with her new neighbor Ricky (Wes Bentley), a silent dealer who is at the mercy of her Marine father (Chris Cooper), while the wife starts a love affair with her competitor at work (Peter Gallagher).
To people in the American middle class, it looks the same every day. Work, house, sleep, a few games on the weekends, while the lazy housewives are interested in gossip and intrigue. It is in such a society that taboos are best hidden, because even the smallest detail that makes someone different is easy to notice and must be effectively hidden. Mendes chose a great environment as support for his film and the topic he deals with easily intrigues the viewer, creating the impression that our neighbors, no matter how polished, are people with big problems and potential perpetrators of crimes.
This ambitious project works at all levels, but some critics complain that it has a lot of clichés in terms of situations or characters that have been seen so many times before, which must be admitted to some extent. There are a lot of movies in which a male character gets a midlife crisis and starts seducing girls, in which his wife is a control freak or in which a strictly military person in the form of a neighbor hides a big secret. The screenwriters resented the forced ending with a shabby dialogue, but I personally didn’t take it as a minus.
Above all, American Beauty is a supreme critique of American petty bourgeoisie, consumer society, and idyllic suburban life. All the time he carries the message that a man must fight to be what he wants to be and that his attitude towards life depends only on him. That is why homosexuality was taken as the main topic, that is. people who, due to their nature, generally have to hide and create potential problems for themselves or others. What gives a big plus to the whole project is the great characterization.
Each character is portrayed with the deepest thoughts and feelings, so that the impression of persuasiveness and truthfulness is easily created and the dark side of human nature is effectively portrayed. Apart from great dialogues that alternately change comic and tragic directions, the film also permeates good black humor, which is carefully used exactly where we are and should be used. Director Sam Mendes does not leave the impression that this is his debut work in the world of film, on the contrary, while the special effects in the form of rose petals are really impressive.
Kevin Spacey is masterful in the role of Lester, an antipathetic egocentric. His performance makes the viewer sympathize with his character even though we are aware of what kind of person he is and Spacey deservedly picked up an Oscar and numerous awards. The constellation of great actors gives him great support, above all Chris Cooper in the role of a strict neighbor, as well as Mena Suvari, whose role in the film American Pie is the complete opposite of the girl he plays here.
American Beauty is an excellent critique of modern society with brilliantly written, though mostly already seen characters. Fans of drama should not miss it.