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American Beauty

stunned \'stund\ to be made senseless or dizzy by or as if by a blow

This word best describes my reaction to American Beauty. The only word that escaped my lips for the first few minutes after seeing that film was "wow". This is an original, edgy whodunnit film for the not-so-faint-of-heart, and it carries with it an intense, underlying theme which is familiar, but then goes beyond familiarity and into the realm of revelation. The film points to, as its underlying theme, the adage "Beauty if in the eye of the beholder", but then goes on to point past that phrase and demonstrate that, if you just look for it, beauty exists for every person, and it does so all around each person… all they have to do is look.

Cast? Oh my… what an absolute treat! Unlike so many films… there is not a bad job done by any actor or actress in this film. Kevin Spacey? Fabulous. Annette Bening? Fabulour. Thora Birch? Fabulous. Wes Bentley? Fabulous, if a bit twisted. Mena Suvari? Fabulous, and too sexy to be playing 16-year olds. Peter Gallagher? Fabulous. Christ Cooper? Fabulous, if disturbing. Allison Janney? Fabulous, if also disturbing in a completely different way. Fabulous. In a word… fabulous!

Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man who hits his mid-life crisis in an amazingly non-self destructive way, although it takes a while for that to be evinced. Bening is his wife, Carolyn, and Birch is his daughter Jane. They are your typical dysfunctional family. Mom's a real estate agent fighting against the bigger agent who's beating her out of house & home… literally. Dad's a self-proclaimed media whore, and Jane is your typical estranged teenager. The film starts off with all sorts of clichés and stereotypical homeowner-neighbor-new neighbor storylines. But somewhere along the way, it takes a giant step towards originality, and leaves the hum-drum storylines behind and marches proudly off into a whole new genre.

Dad meets Ricky Fitts (Bentley), a young man who, despite his rather odd outlook on life, becomes Lester's role model, due to his unflappable confidence. This sends Lester off on a side-trip to self-confidence, spurred on by his fixation with his daughter's friend Angela (Suvari). Things just get weirder from there. Ricky's father and mother are poster children for how people retreat from their true realities into personal ones that keep them insulated and "safe" from the nasty world outside… or rather the nasty world inside their own psyches.

Part of me just wants to gush & tell you the whole story, but instead, I'll sublimate those desires and just say this: This is my pick for best picture winner. In a couple days, we'll see if I was right or not. I don't mean that this is the film I think the academy will pick, mind you… I'm well aware of both Miramax's corporate PR machine (Ciderhouse Rules) and the Academy's historical snubbing of anything touched by Spielberg (who owns Dreamworks, the production company responsible for American Beauty). But I will, in my heart of hearts, hope that the Academy figures out what truly fine filmmaking is, and grants American Beauty the Oscar for Best Picture of 2000 that it deserves.

I will also say, very strongly, that this film is something you must see. Not should see, not might want to see… MUST SEE. However, be prepared to have your worldview tampered with by this film, for its message about the prevalence of beauty in odd and frequent places will find its way into your thoughts, and maybe… just maybe… change the way you view your world and help you not to take it quite as much for granted All in all, I consider that a good thing.

I give this film a hearty and resounding A+! No closing comments, just go see it!

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