American Beauty (1999)
The Re-awakening of American came to the world in the form of this groundbreaking film American Beauty that shows that the image America beyond the white house and TV is just an image. Of course you could argue that this is also a desired image of America. More warts and all are laid bare, we can see the average American family at the dawn of a new century may have lost it’s way to a world materialism. With the deadpan Kevin Spacey, immediately we know he’s going to die, but how, that’s the question we are left with throughout the film.
We follow an apparently average middle class american family, living between gay couple who are becoming more normal by the year, as society learns to accept their way of life. Whilst the new neighbours comes from a military background, based on the old American values that today seem to have been lost in all the commercial gain that has consumed.
Whilst back at home the average American family is falling apart. A man who has worked for fourteen years in the advertising industry to become a victim of redundancy. He takes this as the beginning of a mid-life crisis that leads him to lust after a 16 year old Mena Suvari who wants to be anything but normal. When in fact and every other teenager in the world struggles to understand the world as it seems to change before the eyes. She presents herself to the world as a prolific lover, when in fact she’s a virgin who wants to project her confidence to her peers.
Whilst her friend Jane Burnham (Thora Birch) who is on the other side of the teenage girl spectrum, an insecure young woman who feels unattractive as her body changes before her. Seeing her parents relationship crumble before her eyes only adds to her problems. Finding comfort in a Ricky Fitts (Wes Bently) a psychopathic young man from the military family who passively defies his father, being a drug dealer. Yet he seems to be one of the few in the film that can see beyond the materialism to the insignificant beauties in the world that border on the obsessive at times.
Back in the home of the average American family Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning) who has become a material driven real-estate agent who believes that she should project the life she wants, forgetting what she already has at home, that crumbles before her eyes. Her marriage is no more than a legal arrangement, as he has moved onto to become a single man again who has only himself to please.
A landmark film that made way for more realism in cinema in the next century and decade of film. And still classical in its narration of what life really is, as we hear Spacey from beyond the grave. With still heavy religious overtones at the end, coming from a very catholic country founded on the pilgrim beliefs that were the foundation for the country. A country at the time still not ready to accept real cultural change on the everyday level, as society evolves, we must try and keep up with it. To understand the pressures that media places on young people and adults to live, act and appear a certain way. Whilst being a modern country, it’s tied up in traditional values that only confuse things for America.