American Beauty is a creative exploration of insecurities, betrayals, insignificance and the mid-life crisis in suburban America. The marvellous script is perfectly transferred to screen by director Sam Mendes and his first-rate cast at the height of their form. American Beauty tragically reveals the truth about American society with this dark comedy about love, hate, passion and destruction.
American Beauty revolves around a dysfunctional family in a beautiful neighbourhood with no hope, love, appreciation or respect. Lester Burnham and his over-ambitious realtor wife Carolyn who was formerly joyful and smitten but now they detest spending time together and endure their lives for the sake of their daughter. Lester’s daughter Jane is your ordinary depressed teenager, battling acceptance and filled to the brim with sorrow. Their life continues mechanically, day by day, until the arrival of a strange family next door.
Kevin Spacey, in a sensational performance, nails every comic and emotional tone in the role of Lester Burnham, an average suburban man whose life is slowly falling apart. Spacey flawlessly charts his transformation from a crumpled loser to a tremendously self-confident slacker. Annette Bening throws all of her acting energy into immaculately profound Carolyn, making her sharp and superficial enough to believe Lester would grow to find her repulsive. Thora Birch plays the troubled adolescent without resorting to exaggerated theatrics, while Mena Suvari reflects her best friend as an oddly fragile, wannabe-model bitch. Wes Bentley is ideal as mysterious, camcorder adoring Ricky, skipping between unbalanced weirdo and artistically inspired genius.
The performances are outstanding, the direction is strident, the cinematography is striking and the themes still ring as loud as before. It’s a spectacular and energetic black comedy that astonishingly finds the humanity in ugly, abhorrent characters and reinforces it, meanwhile extracting our sympathy. American Beauty suggests that even below the seemingly pristine surface there are often hollow echoes of dullness, denial and despair. But there’s beauty in even in the wretched efficiency of our lives, and American Beauty makes us grateful for it.