American Beauty
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NOTE: Comment contains spoilers.

October 10, 1999

Jeff --

Great review.  Here are some of my own impressions (more informal than yours).

Most movies with ensemble casts concentrate on only a couple of characters, leaving the rest as caricatures. American Beauty, in particular, has been criticized for examining the "same old characters at the suburban supermarket." True, we have the driven wife, the dopey dad, the sulky teenager, and the neighbors who pop by with flowers and pasta. But AB is remarkable for moulding these old, familiar faces into truly original characters.

Many have called Annette Bening's character the whiny, frigid bitch who resisted EVEN KEVIN SPACEY's attempt at reconciliation, and no more--"the character we love to hate." But I was damned sorry for her. As she states, the only success she can know is the projection of an image of success. She can't sell houses, and her husband throws the asparagus at the wall. Her life is the real "cement hole." The most touching image of her is at the end, where she collapses in the closet, hugging Lester's shirts. Likewise Angela turns out to be more than a skanky cheerleader--she's a horribly lonely girl with nothing to distinguish her but her physical beauty. How would it feel, really, to have men drooling over you at the age of twelve? Thora Birch's character was a bit too sullen even for me, but I understood her motivations. The scene where she removes her top for Ricky's camera nicely conveys her need for someone to "look closer" (R.'s zoom lens notwithstanding). Ricky also has a line about perceiving a "separate life behind everything...a strong, benevolent force." Each and every character in "American Beauty" has a separate life--something going on below the surface.

Finally...Kevin Spacey. I love this guy, and that "smug sarcasm" still annihilates me. He is my snuggle-bug, and I'd be seduced by him anyday. Anyhow, his character is the easiest to like--a bit too easy to like, perhaps. I'm so fond of him that I kept seeing only Kevin Spacey playing Lester Burnham. Here is Kevin, flipping burgers at Mr. Smiley's. There he goes, jerking off in the shower...and how DOES he manage that glorious sneer? I was acutely conscious of "the craft of Spacey." For me, he was not so successful as Annette Bening or Wes Bentley in becoming completely integrated into the movie. But this is my own peculiarity, and probably no reflection on his acting. In conclusion--this is the best flick I've seen in several years, I hope it wins globs of awards...and thank the Lord they didn't cast Christina Ricci as Jane.


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