"American Beauty" only gets three-and-a-half stars the first time around but upon seeing it again in a month or two (and itís worth seeing more than once), I might just give it four! Imagine when coupled with "Election," we get two great commentaries on the American March of Time.
This is one of the few truly adult looks at contemporary life in todayís America, a real movie that strays from the Romper Room set and deals directly with real people. Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham, gives an Academy Award performance as does Annette Bening as his wife Carolyn.
Lester is 42, knows it, and is tired of living with a woman who is the second-best real estate seller in town. Hereís a woman who has rose clippers to match her garden clogs and talks about feeding her American Beauties a diet of eggshells and Miracle Grow, while her husband is drowning at work and their daughter is led down the garden path at school.
Not to saddle Carolyn with all the blame! In this piercing script thereís plenty of fault to go around and that spinning bottle eventually points at everybody in the neighborhood.
For example, Lesterís interview with the new head of personal at the ad agency where heís worked for 14 years, is a marvel of creative dialogue. One Brad Dupree informs out hero that he must write a letter explaining why his job should continue at the agency.
"But youíve only been here a month! Iíve been here fourteen years!" says Lester.
Iíll let you guess the reply.
Luckily Lester has the goods on the agency boss and while losing his job, walks off with $60,000 and immediately goes out to buy a red 1970 Firebird, "--the car I always wanted and now I have it!" But we soon learn that Lester is the only character that really knows something is wrong with the world around him and does something to change his lifestyle.
On one side of Lesterís expensive suburban home are two men living together, both named Jim, Jim No. 1 played by Scott Bakula and Jim No. 2 by Sam Robards. They describe themselves as partners (and are the most normal characters in the plot).
On the other side lives a retired army colonel, one Colonel Fitts (played with great wit by Chris Cooper), a man who browbeats his wife, collects guns and Nazi china, and does urine tests on his son Ricky (who is in reality a drug dealer who takes the money to buy expensive video equipment and film everybody in his life). Upon hearing the two Jims describe themselves as partners, Rickyís father asks what business they are in.
Like William Holdenís character in "Sunset Boulevard," we know from the beginning that Lester is dead and in a marvelous mix of black comedy and soul-sucking realism, we find out how it happened--and why. Directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball, "American Beauty" represents Dreamworks introduction to the production and marketing of great American movies, not just entertainment. Itís rated "R" for a reason, but does nothing wrong except to mirror the real America!