Perfection is rarely obtainable in film. There are very few films that you can think of having seen and thinking that nothing in the film could have been done any better. Director Sam Mendes, up to this point a man who was better known in the theatre circles, got everything to work perfectly together in his first film. He got a marvelous script from Alan Ball (writer for television's Six Feet Under and True Blood) about a middle-aged man from the suburbs who is going through a mid-life crisis. And oh is it a crisis! Then he supported the script with a group of wonderfully talented actors like Annette Bening, Kevin Spacey, Chris Cooper, Allison Janney, and Wes Bentley. And then topped it off by paying particular attention to the cinematography. It is not the usual fare that a drama gets such great cinematography, but as I said everything in the film is well done.
Even living in the perfect house in the perfect neighbourhood with a perfect wife does not guarantee that you are a happy person. Such is the case for Lester Burnham. To everyone around them Lester (Kevin Spacey – Usual Suspects, Pay it Forward) and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening – The Kids Are Alright, Bugsy) are living the perfect life. No one seems to really notice that Lester is suffering from a depression. It becomes so bad that he finds himself becoming obsessed with a teenage girl/cheerleader type named Angela (Mena Suvari – Factory Girl, Rumour Has It…), who lives next door and is friends with his daughter, Jane (Thora Birch – Alaska, Now and Then).
In actuality, Lester does not live the perfect life. Tired of it all, he quits his job and begins working at a fast food restaurant. It is almost as if he is determined to relive his 20s. Lester is tired of his job and so takes on a mindless, low-paying one. Then he becomes so delusional he thinks that Angela, the teenage girl who is always bragging about her sexual exploits, is going to save him from his terrible life.
The man is not happy and that is due to his wretched home life. His wife, who is a real estate agent, is not a very nice woman and his daughter hates him. Carolyn is actually having an affair with fellow real estate agent, Buddy (Peter Gallagher – from television's The OC), and is totally wrapped up in her job. The rebellious Jane is developing a friendship with the shy boy-next-door, Ricky (Wes Bentley – Jonah Hex, Ghost Rider), who lives with his homophobic father (Chris Cooper – Syriana, Capote) and a mother who doesn't talk (Allison Janney – from television's The West Wing).
Released in 1999, this was probably the best film of that year and brought Sam Mendes (Reservation Road, Road to Perdition) and all his talent to the forefront. It is a film that not only entertains you, but makes you think about human nature at the same time. After watching this film you will take a look at your own life, your ideas about the middle class and even make you question your perspectives on reality.
It is a film in which a man keeps self-sabotaging because, like many of us, he doesn't really know what he wants out of life. We think we want things (material possession, a person of the opposite sex, etc.), but when we finally get them we are left unhappy because we didn't really want them to begin with.
Beauty (hence the title) and the idea of what it is is a theme that runs throughout. Ricky is a boy who is able to see the beauty is a bag blowing in the wind. Why is he able to see it as something beautiful whereas most of us would only see it as trash? The film really delves in the idea of human beauty and the fact that it should be rather subjective. We are all just a collection of skin, hair and bones. None of us should be deemed generally ugly or unattractive as different faces should appeal to different people. There will always be someone who finds you attractive.
The film also takes a harsh look at the middle class and the lack of independent thinking within it. Showing that the middle class is really for the most part made up of a bunch of sheep with no modicum of independent thought. They just buy all the things they are supposed to and work in the socially appropriate jobs. Anyone in the middle class who strays from that is sanctioned immediately or even ostracized. Everyone in this film is just living behind a façade they have created to fulfill the roles expected of them due to their place in society. This is no chick flick as some might have thought. Rather it is a rather rough and raw film that is at points tough to watch.
-'American Beauty' Look Closer
-Storyboard Presentation with Sam Mendes and Director of Photography Conrad L. Hall