American Beauty (1999) Director: Sam Mendes
Kevin Spacey stars in this Best Picture-winning exploration of normalcy in suburban America. Spacey also curiously won Best Actor for his performance in this film. He plays an ordinary middle class husband who has something of a midlife crisis while his career-obsessed realtor wife grows dissatisfied with him and his awkward daughter cannot stand him. The idea for the story emerged as a stage play. Throughout the film we are given unique glimpses into the lives of “ordinary” suburban American families – a sexually dissatisfied father who feels empty in his marketing job, a career-obsessed woman who despises her husband and has an affair with someone she admires, a daughter who falls in love with her odd student-of-film neighbor, her desperate friend who is a fraud but proclaims to be a model, the homosexually-repressed neighbor who loudly announces his career in the U.S. Marine Corps, and so on.
Perhaps needless to say, American Beauty has exactly not aged well, especially following Spacey’s sexual-assault allegations in 2017, as well as changing public opinions of the American Dream.
American Beauty is a tired cliché as it is common to parody or even darkly satirize suburban American culture as dead and lifeless. The underlying theme is that under the surface of things lies more authentic people, such as the internal struggles of people and their families (i.e. the most hypocritical example is the U.S. Marine Corps neighbor who is obsessed with condemning gay people, while concealing his own private homosexuality). At any rate, this film is disturbing for its depiction of youthful sexuality and uninspiring for its condemnation of American middle class aspirations -an odd choice for the Best Picture winner, though it is redeemed by the credulous scenes depicting ordinary beauty in the world. The overall purpose of the unredeeming and heroeless; a senseless tragedy that is dark and uninspiring.