American Beauty tells the uncomplicated story of a middle aged man in a mid-life crisis, depressed, doubting his marriage and outrageously becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend. However, what is a very unimaginative storyline quickly becomes the basis for a very cultural and deep journey for every audience member, and leaves no-one doubting that Sam Mendes has the incredible ability to take what might appear as a vulgar idea and turn it into a piece of art.
This movie slots into the “drama” category easily and entirely. The lack of visual effects and clever cinematography techniques puts the success of the film entirely down to the performance, and the cast doesn’t disappoint. Kevin Spacey represents the man that everyone imagines when pondering the phrase “mid-life crisis,” and paired with Annette Bening you have the perfect awkward couple whose marriage is going down the drain.
Throughout the film there are moments that will make you uncomfortable at the very least, and horrified at the most. A memorable scene where Spacey’s character is experiencing an erotic dream and is caught pleasuring himself by his wife will make this movie a difficult one to watch with company. Mendes tackles many issues like this throughout the duration of this very thought-provoking masterpiece; and indeed, you could argue that he tries to squash too many messages into two hours for the audience to digest. Infidelity, drugs, low self-esteem, violence, homosexuality, mental health, murder and discrimination all make an appearance, however Mendes entwines those issues so thoroughly into the storyline that until you sit and pick the film apart, you may not even notice they’re crammed in. This, combined with language and nudity stretches the “15” certificate this film was awarded.
Mendes purposefully confuses the audience with their attitude towards the characters, and he seems to enjoy the uncertainty as to whether characters are, in simple terms, “good” or “bad.” Mena Suvari presents a reasonably pretty young woman named Angela, who at the beginning seems arrogant, stuck up, and happy to sleep with everyone around, including her best friend, Jane’s father. It turns out, however, that she’s a much more complex character. The use of personalities that will be familiar to the audience helps them to relate to the issues presented further, and possibly even makes you take a step back and compare your own life to those of the characters.
What is your purpose in life? How do you feel about yourself? How do you interact with other people? Is your life turning into one big routine? These are all questions “American Beauty” forces you to ask yourself as it delves deeper into the life of one middle class American family and their friends and neighbours, pushing further than usually deemed comfortable. Watch with an open mind and you won’t be disappointed, and look out for the amazing performance and beautiful soundtrack. This really is a film to watch again and again and still be marvelled at every time.