Film Review: Sam Mendes, “American Beauty” (1999)

There’s Nothing Worse Than Being Ordinary…

This week has seen me revisit some of my favourite films from the past few years, this being something which brought to light one film in particular that I loved when I first saw it, and to my surprise has also actually grown on me even more over time with each viewing. american-beauty-1999-03-gThe film in question being Sam Mendes’ debut feature film ‘American Beauty’ starring the magnificent Kevin Spacey in his second Oscar winning role of his rather impressive career. Mendes primarily known prior to this for his brilliant Theatre direction, created this instant classic which is put together in a fresh unusual and creative way which sees him utilising voiceover techniques, and time reversal, as well as this he riskily gambled the future legacy of the film with his decision to make the first sentence spoken in the film unconventionally reveal the fate of the main character Lester telling the viewers how the story will end before it even has begun, this decision did of course pay off, hence showcasing his overwhelming talent as a filmmaker, with this film which was immediately adored by fans and critics alike.

Despite the film having such a fresh feeling, the story is by no means new territory. Each of the character’s story lines display an aspect of familiarity. I bet there’s not one person reading this who doesn’t know somebody like these people. There’s Lester who’s going through a midlife crisis; revisiting his youth by driving fast cars, smoking drugs and listening to old Pink Floyd albums from the 70’s, he’s also fantasising and obsessing over his teenage daughter’s attractive friend whilst stuck in a mutually hateful relationship with his wife who’s also sleeping with a rival estate agent. On top of this there’s an ex-soldier living next door who’s fascinated with Nazi ideology and is openly and proudly homophobic – despite the fact that he is actually a closeted homosexual, his son is a big-time drug dealer who likes to film everything and everyone (including his next door neighbour Lester naked through a window). Then there’s Jane (Lester’s daughter) who desperately seeks escape from her embarrassing parents and her equally embarrassingly vain best friend who has ambitions of sleeping with her friend’s father. These people are unconventional, they’re not all the same, as is a recurring idea throughout the film – they’re not ‘normal’ (“there’s nothing worse than being ordinary”). They’re not normal in relation to other ‘usual’ film characters, however they’re very true to life – we all know a ‘Lester’ or a ‘Carolyn’, they’re the real people we see everyday.

One thing I noticed a lot more with this viewing of the film was how triumphant the comic timing was. Although this is a drama primarily, there are numerous laugh out loud moments, more so than most films actually categorised in the comedy genre, even. After all, what’s funnier than Kevin Spacey’s overly sunny disposition as he’s fired from his job before reinventing himself and singing The Guess Who’s ‘American Women’ to the audience’s delight as he drives to a fast food chain to once again secure the job he once had as a teenager? This film brilliantly tackles and explores themes of sexuality, self-liberation and beauty in a way that leaves the audience actually understanding the psychosis that is driving each of the characters. Lester who develops a rose tinted (in more ways than one) outlook when concerning the young girl who is the object of his desires luckily sees sense in the end, and in his final moments before his death, he is happy. As Lester’s vacant eyes stare into the lens after his murder, his lips are home to a slight smile; at last Lester is in on the joke, feeling gratitude for every single moment of his stupid little life. He managed to die happy.

An Outstanding depiction of what is essentially a somewhat ordinary and mundane existence, the monotony of life and the escape from imprisonment, repression and the materialistic nature of American suburban life, crammed with bursts of hilarity a sense of liberty and most importantly, beauty, 9 out of 10!

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2 thoughts on “Film Review: Sam Mendes, “American Beauty” (1999)

  1. Great review! I LOVE this film. The first time I saw it, I was a little blasé about it. Subsequent views made me fall in love with it. The combination of humour and the tragic lives of these people makes it resonate beyond words. Also, THAT music. Gorgeous film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed the film and my review! I was the same as you, initially I wondered what all the fuss was about – how I was wrong to think that. I’ve since seen it multiple times, each time i see more in it, and I find it hard not to love it more and more with each viewing. Amazing script, amazing score, and amazing cast. What more could we want?

      Liked by 1 person

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