I put off watching American Beauty for some time. The movie is marketed primarily as a mid-life crisis movie. Kevin Spacey's character Lester Burnham becomes infatuated with one of his daughter Jane's best friends. Always, my alarm bells go off at this point. You know, middle-aged man, teen-aged girl, don't really need to be seeing a film like that.
Finally, my Netflix queue roled around to American Beauty, and I figured they could send it and if it didn't work out for me, I'd stop watching it.
So, it's like this. American Beauty is exactly what it says, but it's a lot more than that as well. This is not a happy film. You shouldn't watch this film at all unless you are willing to see dysfunction at its worst in two, potentially three families.
Lester is the bright spot in this nihilistic universe. Let me explain.
At the beginning of the film, Lester is in a coma. He hates his job, his family thinks that he is a joke, and there's nothing in his existence that gives him joy. For some reason, Angela, Jane's friend, sparks a return to life in him, and things begin to change for Lester. He quits his job after blackmailing the company for a severance package. He starts getting into shape and he buys the car he's always wanted. He makes overtures toward his status-obsessed wife about enjoying life. He develops a marijuana habit from Jane's boyfriend. While not all of these things sound like good things, the point is that Lester is beginning to wake up, and live his life, albeit in an adolescent kind of way.
And Lester fantasizes about Angela. These scenes are tasteful, mostly involving lots and lots of rose petals. The director, Sam Mendes, is very cognizant about where he should go with this. I won't tell you how the movie turns out, but I will tell you that Lester makes all the right choices in the end, and I was relieved, right up until Lester's surprising final fate.
As a writer, I'd like to encourage you to watch the film. At the beginning of the movie, Lester lets us know he's dead, and as the complicated lives in the film unfold, we guess and second guess ourselves about how this is going to happen. No one is left the same at the end of the film. It's a great study in how characters interact and spur events in other characters, as well as make decisions that resonate into other plot lines.
Just fantastic. I never doubted that Spacey was an excellent actor, but this is an amazing performance. Annette Benning also turns a good one in. It's hard to play a character like hers convincingly.