American Beauty

My word, what an amazing film. I mean, most directorial debuts are flawed in some way, but American Beauty just takes the cake, with director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball flawlessly making what may be a modern day classic. The cinematography, the characters and their journeys, the score and music selections, the script - every aspect in this film works perfectly with each other, bringing together an emotional and rewarding experience of a film.

In the film, we follow the main character of Lester Burnham, a father of a typical suburban family. However, as the film is quick to point out, a lot more goes on underneath the facade of your "picture-perfect" family. Lester is, actually, scorned by both his wife and daughter, both thinking he's just a loser that's lost connection with his family. This doesn't spare the women of the family from problems, though, as the wife values materials over her family and the daughter is, as typical of a teen, insecure and confused. If Lester's depressing family life isn't enough, his job - already dull and frustrating - is on the line as his company is making cut backs. What follows is a dramatic, yet sometimes comedic, satire on the middle-class notions of beauty, sexuality, life, imprisonment, and redemption.

The film is conceptually complex, with small details working together to bring the film together as a whole. One may notice something interesting about a particular scene on one viewing, and notice something completely different on the next viewing. It's the little things like that that can help you appreciate a film such as this. For instance, if you pay attention to the songs used in the film, you'll realize they're not "just filler". Instead, they speak for dialogue-less scenes, bringing and showing emotion in a way that only music can achieve. You may also notice, perhaps, some scenes are shot to be a visual representation, such as when Lester's reflection can be seen in his work computer's lines of text. This creates a visual that appears to show Lester imprisoned within his own computer, revealing how he feels about his job as an editor.

The characters and dialogue all flow realistically and calmly, letting the story unfold itself and not worrying about pace. Each character has his/her own views on what beauty/success means, and each of these views is tested throughout the duration of the film. When we're not being questioned with these difficult questions, we're spending time getting to know and love these characters - quirks and all. We laugh with them, we feel down with them, all the range of emotions one could think of are pulled out in the film. It's also able to do this successfully without having to rely on cliched tearjerker moments that blatantly try to pull on the heartstrings. No, what makes this film emotionally resonant is how real everything in the film is. It doesn't treat the viewer with stupidity nor does it dare to toy with the viewer's feelings, it instead simply showcases the lives of very ordinary, and messed-up, people just like you or me. These emotions flow naturally, then, as we get to know these characters as people, rather than dolls to move the plot along.

The visuals and the music compliment each other very well, often bringing in hidden subtext as I mentioned earlier. In terms of visuals, red is particularly used the most to represent beauty which, according to the film, can be found anywhere if you look hard enough. There aren't really any spectacular shots ala a Kubrick film, but this is made up for by the wonderful use of characterization and score. The score, as composed by Thomas Newman, has a whimsical, yet real, feel to it that plays up things quite well. It's hard to put into words, but the film would feel rather quiet without Newman's lovely score.

One can't watch American Beauty expecting to find a singular experience or theme, as the film contains layers of expressions which should each be cherished as the film cherishes life itself. The overall message of the film, that beauty is everywhere and that life is meant to be seized and enjoyed, is just beautiful. While it showcases themes of conformity and breaking away from "imprisonment", no where is it stated that all conformity is bad. It's natural, after all, for people to simply wish to fit in and love and become great friends with their peers. To list any sort of grievance against this film is to ignore all the film stands before - beauty in imperfection. American Beauty is, without a doubt, a modern classic to be enjoyed by all.

10/10 - Best of The Best





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