American Beauty – A Review

For the finale in my series of reviews throughout the month of March, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss my favourite film of all time – American Beauty.

At the opening of the film, we are looking at a standard, bird’s-eye-view pan of American Suburbia. Fresh green lawns, lined with white picket fences, a rose bush or two, and 2-3 kids laughing and playing. We have seen this countless times right? However, this opening view is pivotal, as the motion picture we are about to experience, challenges, and sneers at the suburbia that most American’s have evolved to live in and love. This nineties classic has since set the bar for other films, being the first real knockout picture of its type. Is the film a comedy, sitcom, tragedy, love story or moral fable? All of the above.

Lester Burnham, played by the witty and agile Kevin Spacey, is a pretty typical 42-year-old who desperately needs to stop and smell the roses. Spacey nails each and every ingenious and poignant moment in his role, winning endless awards and making it his most highly acclaimed film. As we are flying and descending onto American suburbia, Lester introduces us to the area, dully explaining how this is his neighbourhood, his street, and his life, abruptly followed by “In less than a year, I’ll be dead.”, immediately steering our expectations for the film in an alternate direction, and revealing the ending and making us realize this is going to be much more than a sophisticated soap opera.

So far, so sitcom? But now we are left with the stirring thought of who will kill Lester- the unhappy, overworked and underappreciated husband, father and citizen, who to us seems to be pretty innocent. We soon meet Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning), the wife in Lester’s unhappy and sexless marriage whose only real turn on’s are money, her garden and her competitive real estate job- not her husband.  Jane Turnham (Thora Birch) , his hateful adolescent high school daughter, dealing with the usual struggles of boys and popularity. She also brings home Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), an ignorant, attractive-and-knows-it cheerleader and the night Lester meets Angela triggers the start of a deep, desire for the high schooler.

Throughout the film, it flips between a mid life crisis, humorous tragedy, to a poignant and humane moments of realism. A must see classic.

What’s your favourite film?


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