It’s hard to put into words what the meaning of American Beauty is. It is about a lot of things. Multiple themes and open to interpretation in many ways. Themes of suburban life, the meaning of life, death, pedophilia, the American family, obsession with physical beauty, etc. I find it very rare to find a film that can actually deal with so many themes and not feel like a humongous mess (see films like Prometheus and you’ll get what I mean in terms of humongous mess). It has ambition that pays off in nearly every way. I came into this movie with no real expectations, I knew nothing about it and it surprised me. I didn’t expect such a sprawling film that managed to deal with so much in just two hours.
Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a middle-aged office worker who hates his job, it opens with his wonderful piece of narration, which typically, I would hate but when it’s so well-written…I just can’t hate it. I compare the narration of this film to many of Scorsese’s films where it is just so good that I can’t hate it or it just doesn’t feel cheap or lazy like most narration should. Lester is married to Carolyn (Annette Bening) who is a real-estate broker and wants to be nothing but successful. Jane (Thora Birch) is their daughter and hates her parents with a passion, and has a low self-esteem. Most of this sounds like a stereotypical set-up, nothing really out of the ordinary but it is so far from that.
It just keeps building up with exploration of themes in a unique way especially with the performances from the entire cast, most notably Spacey who delivers each and every line with absolute perfection, whether it be sarcastic, dark, serious, or completely insane, Spacey does it perfectly. The Burnham’s family also have a new neighbor, a family of three including Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), his wife, Barbara (Allison Janney), and their teenage son, Ricky (Wes Bentley). Frank is a retired member of the Marine Corps and is a strict man who can’t trust his son. Regardless, the catalyst of the plot is when Lester sees Jane’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari) and he becomes obsessive about her, planning aspects of his life around her.
This film is ambitious in the best way possible. Everything feels like it was worth it in the end. You’ll leave it thinking, thinking a lot, and not just about a single thing, about many, many, things. It’s a film hard to put into words, it’s different even if it doesn’t seem so at a first glance, if anything, it may seem like something typical but is so far from it. It isn’t a film that every person who watches it will have the same interpretation, it’ll be subjective to your own life and what you have gone through yourself. For example, as someone who has a serious distaste for suburban life, I love the way it portrays it in a dark, fairly disturbing manner. But, it still has plenty of universal themes that really apply to everyone regardless of the mist of insanity the movie gives off. Overall, this is a sprawling, ambitious, film that has so much to offer just in a total of two hours, it’ll leave you with so much just about life in general and on top of that, the ensemble cast is incredible.