Release Date: 188
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 120 min
Distributor and Production Company: Dreamworks
Director; Writer: Sam Mendes
Producer: Dan Jinks
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper; Written by: Alan Ball;
Technical: Full Widescreen
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: gays in military (at end of A.B.)
Movie Review of American Beauty
Dreamworks Pictures; 120 Minutes;
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper; Written by: Alan Ball; 10/10; Panavision
We've all heard the Sunday school lessons about the emptiness of "materialism." We read the pontifications of Sinclair Lewis in Babbitt. But this film really makes us feel the emptiness of it all, of a life driven by conformity to "the American Dream," of setting up a heterosexually-parented family with all the proper material possessions, of reconciling the need to achieve for oneself and put family first. There are many great lines, such as when the wife tells her inquisitive daughter, "you can never depend upon anyone except yourself."
And this movie provides a good Scott Meredith Writing to Sell lesson on how to transfer philosophical ideas into compelling fiction. Spacey tries to break free and three people wind up plotting to kill him. Which one actually does it, is the viewer's guess.
Along the way, there are compelling scenes. A spiffy stand-and-model type of fine young man gets hired by his employer as an efficiency expert and pushes him out the door. Fourteen years at the magazine, writing what other people told him to write! He winds up doing grunt work, at MacDonalds, recession style.
His wife catches him masturbating in bed. He can't even enjoy his own fantasies.
The homophobic Marine Colonel next door gets outfoxed by his beguiling son, who sees nothing wrong with living up by dealing drugs. At the end, the Marine turns out to be a "latent" one himself. The only stable characters in the film are the gay male couple next door. Such is Dreamworks partner David Geffen's indirect answer to gays in the military.
The film has a weird, surreal work, emphasizing red flower petals as a
kind of wish-fulfillment symbol. It takes place in a nameless suburb
Still, the lesson of this film is its simplicity of plot, with many titillating episodes. Real life, though, has real places and real people, with self-made reality which is stranger than this film. If you want to deal with life going through the purification inevitable in the next century, you have to deal with complexity.
The narrative approach, in which the Spacey protagonist addresses the audience from "on high" does frame the film well. Particularly interesting is this perspective: "It has been said that every day is the first day of the rest of your life. Except one, the day you die."
Personal account narrative is even more effective in a darker film about
middle class alienation, that is, The Fight Club. This 20th
Century Fox (Fox 2000) offering is directed by David Fincher, and it evokes
the nocturnal, other-dominion feel of his Seven (1995). The anti-hero
is an lean and agile thirty year old played by
acting genius Ed Norton. Why is everyman Norton (Primal Fear) so effective
playing a psychopath? Here is a well-off young adult paying his condo
mortgage as a recall engineer, and looking for meaning. He orders every piece
of mod furniture he finds in mail-order, thinking that this becomes him
(forget the computers and compact discs). The condo is a ménage of blues and
grays. He starts attending encounter groups, for voyeuristic reasons.
(They're way off; testicular cancer surgery does not make men grow teats. In
one of the groups, public speaking, to borrow from Dan Quayle, is easy: a
woman is asked to sit down from her lectern as she jokes about her sexual
frigidity.) He goes over the edge when his psyche invents an imaginary
playmate Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Of course, he
doesn't realize that when he talks to
This guy, who might have been a nerd, just, given his failure with the opposite sex and its taming influence, can't find anything to do by herd violence and eventually blowing up buildings (and himself). Some critics call this movie a recipe for terrorists, but I think it is a study of psychological emptiness. It's interesting, though, how he deals with it by standing outside of himself and talking about himself, governing himself, even from beyond the grave.
If Fight Club dramatizes the process of creating an imaginary
playmate or alter "split personality" ego, then the comedy Being
John Malkovich (
And David Lynch joins the search for meaning with the ballade of Alvin
Straight (Oliver Farnsworth) in The Straight Story (Walt Disney
Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution). This film earns its G rating with its
gentleness. This is the story of a grizzled old codger, with no driving
license, driving across
The midwestern photography (reminds one of The
Bridges of Madison County) is spectacular, from the flat lands around the
Grotto of the Redemption (near
The Contender (2000), starring Anne Harris and Jeff Bridges (as a
Democrat president, no less) is another solid Dreamworks
political offering. (This is not The Manchurian Candidate
(1962), though; no Angela Lansbury.) And this film manages to make debates on
social issues lively and build them into the story. There is an angry exchange in the
confirmation hearings about abortion—in stark terms of a “right to choose” v.
the life of the unborn child. Sen.
Hanson is definitely a liberal—enough to take every gun out of every private
The little Shooting Gallery film You Can Count on Me (distributed by Paramount Classics, 2000) with Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick also spins a knitted morality tale, slightly down-scale from the high-income bored suburbanites of American Beauty. In this film, Terry (Mark Ruffalo) comes across with the best character, becoming a pseudo-daddy to his nephew while his more stable sister gives in to the temptation of sleeping with the boss (Broderick). You don’t have to be married to be a dad, or be a good role model. Trouble is, Terry tries so hard to be a man that he can’t stay out of jail. I love that line where he wants to send the kid to the “Baby House.”
Here is biggie Touchstone Pictures (rather than Miramax) releasing what looks like an
independent art film, the writing debut of James Hughes, son of Jon
Hughes. Blake Shields plays the
charismatic, restless and ambitious 17-year-old Maddox, who sets apart to
make his universe – the high school campus of
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