What is the point of film? Is it to entertain, to amuse, to teach or to question elements of our society which we as human beings deem ‘normal’? Indeed, film in its much earlier form was conceived to distract the populace from the hum drum monotony of everyday life. The same can arguably be said of much of the film produced today. Whether it be Bond defeating the bad guys or the Jonas Brothers making young teenage girls giggle with excitement the same fundamental motives are there; to entertain a mass audience and bring in the reddies. So, when a film manages to entertain without being too shallow, to amuse without being forgettable, to teach without being preachy and to question without being condemning it is justifiably worthy of mention. This is precisely the reason why American Beauty is such a worthy watch and is labelled by yours truly as a classic.
In more succinct terms, American Beauty succeeds greatly in making a relevant and poignant social statement for our time. It succeeds in getting behind the exterior appearances of 21st century post modernism. Yet to the greater credit of director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball American Beauty makes this sincere and serious statement whilst being able to deliver wonderful and consistent black comedy moments. This then is a key difference between American Beauty and other societal themed offerings. The latter can sometimes leave a guilty and sour taste in the mouth of the viewer. American Beauty whilst being a challenging watch certainly is not culpable of this.
The ability to make an impact on the viewer whilst also being rather light hearted is encapsulated in Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham. Lester, whilst being rather droll and an instrument of amusement is the central character through which the points of the film are made. A paradoxical statement this may be, yet paradoxes are a key pillar of American Beauty. They are present throughout and are created with a brilliant effortlessness, giving it an ebb and flow throughout its 110 minute screen time.
Despite the superb performance by Kevin Spacey the efforts of the other characters are very commendable indeed. There are many intertwining individuals and stories here, each of them are explored fully and you therefore get to know intimately the situations of each of the ‘supporting’ characters, and more importantly the crucial points they have to make throughout the picture. Each part has been cast superbly, and this contributes to the balanced nature of American Beauty, we are therefore not relying on Spacey as a central character to deliver the important punch lines or laughs.
One irritation of this epic is the that a number of these key players in rebelling against the exterior based Western society, seem to become rather self centred, doing what only satisfies their innermost desires, and disregarding the feelings and needs of others which are dependent upon them. Yet, the beauty of American Beauty (no pun intended) is that the script allows and fosters noticeable imperfections to creep into these characters. This perhaps contributes to the wholly relatable nature of this picture. Thus, none of these characters despite their righteous rebellions are protected from failure and suffering.
In conclusion, American Beauty is a classic for many reasons, not least the reason that despite being made nearly ten years ago it is still vividly relevant for today’s audience, exploring issues around success, image and self worth without being preachy in the slightest. What is also extremely impressive about this offering, is its subtle pointing to the fact that there might be something else more important in life than money, possessions and external beauty. Also, in the current financial climate, it is terrific value for money! I got my copy for two quid off Ebay!