American Beauty (Classic Review)

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After binge-watching the third season of ‘House of Cards’, I felt inspired to watch some other movies that Kevin Spacey has starred in. The first movie that came to mind was ‘American Beauty’.

Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, ‘American Beauty’ is a gorgeous work of art about letting go and finding the beauty in life. With amazing performances from Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, iconic imagery and lines that you will be quoting for the next week, this movie is a bonafide classic.

‘American Beauty’ turns a midlife crisis into a journey of discovery, showing audiences that beauty is all around us.

“Remember those posters that said, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life?’ Well, that’s true of every day but one – the day you die,” is what Kevin Spacey’s character Lester Burnham opens the film with and serves as the perfect theme for the movie. ‘American Beauty’ is all about giving up on what is expected of you and taking control of your life and actually living.

The Burnham family is the poster child for normalcy with Carolyn (Annette Bening) being the vision of success, Lester being the awkward father, and Jane (Thora Birch) being the angsty teenager daughter. On the inside though, something is brewing.

When Lester first sets eyes on Jane’s friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), a perversion begins that liberates him, creating a sort of mid-life crisis. Lester quits his job at an advertising agency, blackmailing his boss in the process, receiving $60,000. With this money, he buys weed, a sexy new car, work out equipment, and a remote controlled car. He also goes back to his roots and gets a job at a fast food restaurant like the one he worked at when he was younger. He grows in confidence, unleashing a man who takes control of his situation and won’t be pushed around any longer.

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Kevin Spacey is just THE MAN! In every movie I have seen him in, he didn’t play the character, he became that character. It is hard to believe that Dreamworks was very against having Spacey cast in this movie at the beginning because they didn’t think he was a big enough name. I can’t see how “well-known” isn’t one of the first things that come to mind when you hear Spacey’s name but that could be in part to a long list of other terms such as:

  • Oscar Winner
  • Icon
  • Mr. President
  • My Idol
  • LIVING LEGEND!

Spacey is just so AH-MA-ZING in this role. He is sexual and coy, awkward and confident, unhinged and put-together all at once and he constantly plays multi faceted roles, executes them perfectly every time. In my opinion, his Best Actor win at the Oscars in 2000 is one of the most well deserved of the 21st Century.

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Another amazing performance is delivered by Annette Bening. She plays Carolyn, the breadwinner of the Burnham family who owns a reality agency. Thinking that to be successful, one must always give off and air of success, her character is very tightly wound and concerned about how others perceive her.

She goes through her own self discovery by cheating on her husband and then deciding to punish Lester for what he has been doing to her. The scene with her in the car repeating that she refuses to be a victim and pulling a gun out of the glove compartment of her car is a really powerful one.

Fact: Annette Bening has never won an Oscar and it is a crime. She was nominated for her role in this movie but lost to Hillary Swank who won for her role in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. I shall make a tin foil Oscar, spray paint it gold, and send it to her. Anyone know her address?!

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If you haven’t seen this movie, you know at least two iconic scenes from this movie. Both of them involve Kevin Spacey, Mena Suvari and roses. The first being when Lester first sets eyes on Angela and fantasizes about her opening her jacket and rose petals spilling out. The second is similar but this time, Angela is naked, surrounded by roses with a few strategically placed petals covering the bits. The color red is prominently featured in this movie. Whether it be roses or blood, the imagery created using this color is visionary and sets the bar for other films seeking imagery as perfect as this.

Everything in this movie is quotable! I have been trying to see how many ‘American Beauty’ references I can fit into a conversation. I look forward to the moment when I’m having asparagus for dinner and I get to use this gem!

“Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to fuck himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus.”

or simply

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Everything from the scene above is just legendary and I re-watched it literally five times!

Also, another personal favorite!

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Perhaps the most quotable parts of this movie are about the beauty in life. Through their journey, the varied cast of characters find the beauty in life and liberate themselves in one way or another.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday. – Kevin Spacey

5 Rating

I give ‘American Beauty’ 5 out of 5 film reels.

‘American Beauty’ was released on October 1, 1999 and stars Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, and Allison Janney. The film is directed by Sam Mendes

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