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American Beauty Essay, Research Paper

Think hard about the following question. When was the last time that when a film’s credits started rolling, you just stared at the screen, in silence? Seconds, minutes later, you were still in silence. The grin on your face seems to be placed there naturally, and won’t go away. You can’t move a muscle, as you are completely shocked and astonished, as the film you just viewed is among your favorites of all time. If you’re stumped, and can’t answer this question, as it has been too long since this has happened to you, go see American Beauty, and feel the experience, once again.

You see a happily married man. He is a magazine writer, father of one. His life couldn’t be any happier.

Look closer.

You see a self absorbed, sarcastic, mean spirited person who despises his wife, and only cares about what he wants.

You see a happily married woman. She is a successful realtor, and mother of one. Her life couldn’t be any more perfect.

Look closer.

You see a shallow, rude person who despises her family, and only seems to be the reflection of Carol Brady.

Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn (Annette Bening) Burnham live in a peaceful, ordinary suburban neighborhood, where they live their not so peaceful lives. The unhappily married couple lives with teen daughter Jane (Thora Birch), who appears to hate both her parents, as she often smarts off to them and uses vulgar words at them. This relatively small, threesome of a family is the main focus of American Beauty, in which we get a closer look at each one of the main characters, as the film unfolds each being’s true beauty. By the time American Beauty reaches its climax, we have “looked closer” at every character, as their true personalities and feelings are true. By the time American Beauty reaches its climax, you have felt so many emotions and thoughts you feel like you’re going to explode. By the time American Beauty reaches its climax, you realize you’ve seen one of the most powerful, saddening, funny, and real motion pictures of our time.

Looking to take an active interest in their daughter, Lester and Carolyn attend a basketball game in which Jane is cheerleading. Lester catches a glimpse of one of Jane’s fellow cheerleaders, Angela (Mena Suvari), and something inside of him is sparked. Just by taking one look at this girl, Lester decides to quit his job, smokes pot, and start working out.

“I feel like I’ve been in a coma for about twenty years, and I’m just now waking up.”

Of course the entire Burnham family realizes these odd changes in him immediately, but they also start noticing changes in themselves. Jane’s life is changed by Ricky (Wes Bentley), the new kid on the block, who just moved next door, and films everything he sees. Ricky, who has been in a mental institution, finds no joys in life except the beauty in it, as he has an entire wall full of videos that he has filmed. In an extraordinarily powerful scene, Ricky shows Jane the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen- a paper bag, blowing around in the wind with the leaves, on a cold, beautiful day.

Carolyn’s life is changed instantly and drastically by “The King” Buddy Kane, the most popular realtor in town, whom she has an affair with. Carolyn goes through with the affair with Buddy as a result of her now care free husband, and the fact that she is on the verge of becoming a psychotic person. As the three go on their own separate conquests, the family becomes farther and farther apart, as Jane continues to give desperate cries for attention to her parents, but they are pre occupied with their own needs.

The entire ensemble cast gives performances nothing short of perfection, as every line, every move, every facial gesture, and every blink each actor makes is so perfect, so real, the characters come to life, and stop being characters in a movie, but your friends, family, and neighbors. The screenplay, along with the actors, bring each and every character to life with such vivid color and beauty, you feel like you’re watching your life story put to screen. The screenplay takes your basic, cookie cutter characters, and shows what the characters are really like, instead of giving a one dimensional, predictable personality. The main cast, consisting of Annette Bening, Kevin Spacey, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, and Wes Bentley all deliver performances that will surely bring them many award nominations and hopefully wins, as the bunch are such a likable, talented group, I don’t think any motion picture group, including the Academy, can ignore their performances while choosing the nominees and winners.

Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey are a marvelous on screen duo, as you savor for the moment the two are in a scene together, and start dealing out argumentative statements. At times, the two are hilarious, but when the words become darker, and more serious, the smile on your face starts to fade away and turn into a frown. Watching a fight between the couple is like watching your own parents fight, as the dialogue and acting is so real, you feel horrible and unstable while watching.

It’s obvious where veteran actors such as Spacey and Bening would give Oscar worthy performances, but the big surprise performances come from the younger ones. Thora Birch and Mena Suvari bring their roles to life with an extra touch of realism, making you believe they are teens, not characters written to act like teens, and Wes Bentley, although not always acting like a teen, adds the psychotic touch that the character needs to make his character work.

American Beauty can make you laugh at one time, with its outrageously funny one-liners, and at the next can jerk a tear or two. Or three. Or twenty. The heart racing, moving climax is one that moved me in a way a film has never done, as I sat there, eyes bulged open, jaw dropped to the ground, tears on their way to my eyes. Everything from start to finish in American Beauty is done so perfectly, you wonder how the screenplay is written by, and the film is directed by, first time filmmakers. The screenplay, written by Alan Ball, will surely launch him into superstardom, as American Beauty is the most skillfully crafted piece of work to be put to screen this year. Ball knows not only how to make the viewer laugh and cry, but how to make them sympathize with characters, relate to characters, and care for them deeply. Director Sam Mendes’ directorial debut in film is an enticing blend of comedy, drama, and contains a rock solid, down to earth feel about it, you just can’t refuse loving this four star gem.

The Bottom Line- You see a movie. Look closer, and you’ll see one of the decade’s best.


- American Beauty the movie.


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