Retro Reviews: ‘American Beauty’ (1999)

The 90s was a great decade for films released. It was the decade which saw a lot of terrific mainstream releases, and at the end of the decade, a lot of films lined up for competition. One of them was Sam Mendes’ drama ‘American Beauty’; a drama that has become an American classic.


American Beauty seeks to shift our perception of the fake truths we  have always believed in when we are talking about the American middle-class society. It targets our beliefs regarding the suburban way of living, and utterly demands it to change drastically with the use of a humorous but candid delineation that attracts our senses and awakens our thoughts to good measure. The film is completely a satire, and it is pushed the farthest to create a better understanding in a lively fashion of those belonging in what we fail to see as an ostensible world. It depicts extremely truthful dark themes that reflect in the American middle-class lifestyle so gracefully, and is given so much honesty with the use of ultimately painstaking and brutal irony that is present all throughout to let us think further. The screenplay is given so much life with the poignant undertones lying just beneath the poetic and satiric visualization of what is deemed to be true, and it allows the characters within it to easily become realistic yet dark parallels of real-life persons dealing with certain issues as well as tap into their life’s dilemmas. One’s own miseries are scrutinized rather beautifully as they get depictions riddled in intense humor to its dramatic effect.

American Beauty

Throughout its entirety, different situations are discovered in the lives of various people in two families, and each could be considered as “the perfect” people whom we all look up to, only to find out that even they are grappling with life despite the fact that they are surrounded with luxury. What makes it all so surreal is how they are all depicted. Each person is given a fairly exaggerated portrayal, and what makes it furthermore unbelievable is how their way of thinking affects one another, which all the more emphasizes the main theme dealing with “perfection”. Perfection plays as the biggest theme of all, and its consequential ironies are so devastatingly expressed in the heavy climax wherein everything just goes to the ground as gloomy shades of heavily poignant extremes flow in a lyrical sense that gives a sardonic definition to a happy ending.


It could be said that the film focuses on a variety of themes noticeably, but it never loses dexterity in handling each and every one of them without distracting one another whenever a certain topic is being visually discussed. Particular matters are pointed out, and they are made sure to serve enormous importance to the story’s drive of intelligent analysis. There is a sincere amount of disturbing imagery in the film that is masked in ravishingly detailed portraits, and it never fails to give us this unsettling feeling that keeps us thinking that what we are watching is rather inappropriate. Nonetheless, these number of sequences presented are somewhat enchanting in the sense that they allow us to see into the distraught mind of an adult seeking for a life that he once lived all shown in a manner bound to keep us entranced from the seductive photographs. An array of people are examined, but Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham opens up the film aptly. From there on, we see a number of lives trying to be so flawless and animated, only to see the awful repercussions. The cold words of sadness reek in, and Spacey’s fake joyfulness fuels the direction of the film’s entirety. His sarcasm and wit shows sincerity and anguish, and the way he interacts with Annette Benning’s Carolyn just adds yet another level of misery with all the pained drivels that he takes in from his wife.

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The arguments that ensue, as seen in one perfect scene set at a dinner table where plates are crashing onto the floor allow for emotions to crash right in. The utter disdain from Spacey and Benning creates an unforgettable moment that emulates what really goes around in a seemingly ideal household. The power of said scene is strikingly immense, and it gets felt like a slap to the face with all the heat and deep misunderstandings layed all around. Annette Benning shows masked happiness so realistically as she plays with a little jest and aggressive feelings so exaggeratedly without pretension. With these two people combined, we get a distorted portrait of a marriage gone wrong with one’s infidelity, and the consequences seen within are both tragic and funny. It is presented with zests of amusement that makes even the darkest of times look merry thanks to the characters’ eventual recklessness that might have just resulted to hilarity amidst predicament. The two create a duo comprised of contrasts, and the results are vivid if one were to see past the artful depictions and look at it at a view based on realism and truth.


From a window comes in Wes Bentley’s Ricky, and he acts as a quasi-comparison to what Lester could’ve and should’ve been. Thora Birch plays Jane, a teenager whom female teens can empathize with, and she gives a stand-out performance based on lifeless-emotions depicting total familial disconnect.  He and Thora Birch’s Jane become youthful forces that surround the film in allure, and they are what make up the film’s connectivity to the young audiences with the timely issues that concerns them in regards to insecurities and other various topics. The amount of people given enlightenment gives the film another reason to be kept into one’s heart; particularly those who see themselves in the characters that they shared time with.  Its abundance of snarky cynicism lets viewers switch angles from one place to another without concealing anything that they see as figments of fiction but rather allows us to flip it into a reality where things are dark even if they look like they are bathed in illumination and roses. Amreican Beauty is a film that you would love to experiment with, basically for the mere fact that a handful of characters in it are basically satirized cut-outs of a filament bent on the real world. In their entirety, they are easy to relate with even if this is that type of film that has a very American point-of-view on suburban life. There’s no need to place yourself in one perspective when there are so many to position yourself in. It’s what makes the film so important, yet so admired for it is also filmic analysis on a subject that we all THINK we are familiar with while also being a full-fledged, entertaining drama jointed with top notch performances and stellar writing.


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* American Beauty is available on DVD distributed by Magnavision Home Video. Visit their Facebook page here:


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