American Beauty (1999)
IMDB Rating 8.5/10 122 min - Rated 18 Drama
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari Director: Sam Mendes
When a film begins with the voice-over of a middle-aged man telling us that in a year from now he'll be dead, we know we are in for something different. Lester Burnham (Spacey) is the quintessential middle-class white American, trapped in a life that has leached him of all passion and zeal. On the outside he has much to envy; great house, great lifestyle, attractive wife (Bening) and daughter, but, as we delve beneath the surface, we begin to realize that all is not roses in the Burnham household. His marriage has deteriorated into a campaign of snide comments and sarcasm, and his daughter is ambivalent towards him —an insult far greater than hate or rebellion. So when he catches the eye of her beautiful friend Angela, (Suvari), it's enough to give his sad existence a new lease of excitement and purpose. Mendes' directorial debut was the archetypal nineties film that expressed the repressions of American suburbia, peering through the curtains like a raincoat-wearing voyeur and delving into the characters' lives in an intrusive manner. Lester's midlife sexual obsession is more wake-up call than realistic chase, giving him a whiff of the excitement he once experienced when life was more meaningful. Meanwhile, his unsatisfied wife embarks on an affair with a sleazy estate agent and his daughter becomes involved with the strange boy living across the road who videos her from his bedroom. Gradually the apparently quiet neighbourhood is revealed in all its quirky, ugly nakedness. Although the premise of the film is to find out who murdered Lester, it's not really that important. The reason for his death and the road that takes each character towards a motive are the issues dealt with here.