Rated R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content.
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Written By: Alan Ball
Staring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Wes Bently, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch, and Allison Janney
“I feel like I’ve been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I’m just now waking up.” -Lester Burham
Lester Berhum (Kevin Spacey) is fed up with his monotonous suburban life and begins to fly into an whirlwind mid-life crisis. Triggered by an attraction to his daughters high school girl friend (Mena Survari), he begins to turn his life into an entirely different direction. His cheerleader daughter (Thora Birch), who is already in the midst of her own rebellion, and crazed, super witch of a wife (Annette Benning) have to deal with a father who is tampering with their perfect little vision of a family. In his own reformation, he manages to embarrass them both with his obnoxious behavior. The surprise here is the mega witch wife and contemptuous cheerleader daughter have their own dark secrets they aren’t sharing.
Lester’s wife Carolyn is busy carrying on with a dirty little affair with a fellow real estate agent she has been lusting after, Buddy Kane. (Peter Gallagher). Lester doesn’t even care, he’s busy pumping iron, smoking pot, and buying his teenage dream car, not to mention he blackmailed his boss and quit his job. When he’s not busy laying around being a bum he’s fantasizing about his daughter’s friend Angela.
The supporting cast including Angela, the object of Lester’s affection, who happens to be an insecure brat of a girl, that talks down to her friend Jane, Lester’s daughter, to feed her own ego. Meanwhile, Janes attention is set to the new boy who moved next door named Ricky (Wes Bently) and they begin their own twisted relationship. Ricky seems to have a very keen outlook on the people around him and tapes peoples behavior on his video camera. He points out Angela’s cruelness as a defense mechanism. He also sees what Lester is going through, and befriends him. Not to mention, becomes his pot dealer. Ricky’s homophobic and overbearing military father(Chris Cooper) eventually finds some of Ricky’s tapes and in his own convoluted mind finds something that sends him over the edge.
The highlight of the movie is Kevin Spacey tour de force performance that won him an Oscar. Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham gave the “mid-life” crisis a whole new sense of perspective. What I find most compelling about Lester is how tangible his character truly is. While we might laugh or cheer at some of the outrageous things he does, his behavior is totally rational. The character could be any person, in any house, and in any neighborhood. So many people go through their lives, going through the motions and forget about who they are, the fact that they had dreams and hopes. When one day you suddenly wake up and realize twenty years are gone. For me, I always think of the Pink Floyd song “Time” when I think of Lester and these lyrics:
“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”
He lost total sense of who he was. When this realization came to him, he was logically angry. With an honest sense of mortality, he began to do all things he’d always wanted to do in life. The fact that he did die a year later was tragic, but at least he experienced life on his terms for a short period of time. What was so truly brilliant about Kevin Spacey’s performance was he never over did it. He played the character as authentically as possible, making Lester ever the more common. What made Lester so special was the fact that he was normal. Between the writing, direction, and phenomenal acting American Beauty is one of the greatest films ever made. But because Of Kevin Spacey’s performance of Lester it all came together.
The first line of the movie Lester announces he will be dead in a year, and yet somehow while watching the movie you can’t comprehend how that will actually happen until you are very close to the end. And at that end all the characters come to a head and everything explodes. American Beauty is probably one of the most complex and yet simple movies of it’s time. At a first viewing it’s almost sad, and even a little off setting, but the more often you watch this movie you realize it’s core is actually comedy. A dark, dark comedy, yes, but it’s there.