"I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me. But it's hard o stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I am seeing it all at once, and it is too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst. And then I remember to relax. And stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can feel anything but gratitude for every moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about do you? But don't worry you will someday." - Lester Burnham
American Beauty was the directorial debut of Sam Mendes. He won best director for this, and the movie won best picture for the year of 1999. Kevin Spacey got the award for best actor for the 2nd time in his career. The film won a total of 5 Oscars, and it is truly won of the greatest films ever made.
It is one of my favorite movies as well. I have seen this 2 and a half times, and I never watch a movie twice so that says a lot coming from me. I have a love hate thing with it however, because the characters in this movie are all really flawed and kind of nasty. There are a few characters that you really like, but even they have some really huge flaws in them. The American dream is to have a job, and a house so you can raise a family. However that dream in reality is very flawed and this movie shows that. Nobody in this movie is happy so it is a very depressing movie that bothers you at times. I found it to be a very dark black comedy. I also found it to be thought provoking, and interesting.
A dead man narrates the story. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is dead, and he is narrating the story of the last year of his life. He has less then a year before he dies, but he doesn't know it, but he pretty much already is. He is a walking cliché. He is depressed, he has been working in the same job for years, and his family thinks he is a loser. His wife Caroline (Annette Bening) is miserable, and she hates herself. She is a total fake, and she does the worst job trying to hide the fact that she is miserable. She is a bully to Lester and to their daughter Jane (Thorah Birch). I hated her completely. I thought Annette Bening did a great acting job, because I hated her character so much, and you were supposed to so she gets props for that. Jane is a typical teenage girl. She is angry, confused, and she has bad self-esteem. It doesn't help her that her friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) is beautiful, and all she cares about is her looks. Angela is the most arrogant person I have ever seen. She and Caroline are the two characters that I couldn't stand. Angela is the American beauty in the story. However in the end I think that they tried to make you think that Jane is the American beauty. Because they make her look better and better as the film goes along, and they make Angela look like a really ugly person.
Lester develops a crush on her, and it is very creepy, because she is his daughter's best friend. He fantasizes about her naked in a bed of roses. The fantasies can be funny, because his facial expressions when he is in the middle of them are hilarious. I think Kevin Spacey won the Oscar for this film, because of how funny he was in the film. He eventually starts to change his life, and begins to stand up for himself, and that is when the movie gets really good. My favorite scene is when he has a fight with his wife in the middle of the night, and then he just stands up for himself and leaves her stunned. Also the scene at dinner when he starts saying how he gets treated like he doesn't exist, and he throws the plate at the wall. That scene really bothered me, but I loved it. Lester is one of the few characters who you cheer for in this film. I found that I could relate to him, because at times I want to change like he did, and basically say the hell with this. I wouldn't go as far as he did, because he did start doing weed, and blackmailed his boss. His story is another breaking bad story that you see in a lot of things. However he really starts to cause stress with his family once he starts to stand up for himself.
The next-door neighbor Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) just moved in. He is a pot dealer, and user. He films everything that goes on around him, including Jane. It is very creepy, but he films her because he thinks she is beautiful, and because he finds her interesting. When Angela is around he ignores her, and he just films Jane. He eventually begins a relationship with her, and a friendship with Lester. He is abused by his father Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper). Colonel Fitts is homophobic, and just a nasty person. He beats his son up a few times in the film.
The film takes you through a wide range of emotions. That is why I like it so much. You feel, sad, happy, angry, and bad for people at times. All of the characters that you hated you feel bad for in the end. The ending although you may think is sad because you can tell that Lester was happy when he died. That is not a spoiler because you know he is dead at the beginning.
Lester gets killed by Colonel Fitts because Fitts kissed him, and that brought out the fact that Colonel Fitts was a in the closet gay man. The fact that he had it in him was why he hated it so much, and it was something that made me think. You know that Lester is happy because when you see his head on the counter dead, he is smiling. Ricky walks in and is stunned by it, but then he smiles when he can tell that Lester is happy. The film started with him asking Jane is she wanted him to kill her father, and it is ironic because she got her wish.
-----End of Spoiler Alert-----
This is a film that was better the 2nd time, because I picked up on things I hadn't noticed before. I never noticed that Colonel Fitts saw a lot of things that made him suspect that his son and Lester were both gay and together. I didn't pick up on those signs the first time. Also when he shoots Lester I never noticed that when the blood hit the wall that it looked like a rose. I could never figure out the symbolism of the rose throughout the movie the first time I watched it, but I noticed it the 2nd time.
-----Comparisons to The Great Gatsby-----
Although the Great Gatsby and the movie American beauty take place 80 years apart with very different plots, there are many striking similarities between the flawed lead characters and these flaws create much drama and pain for the other characters, and often for the viewer. The flaws lead to the downfall of several characters, including the death of Gatsby and Lester, and leave most of the others scarred and damaged. The Great Gatsby and American Beauty both contain elements of class; people presenting a false image, cruelty, bullying, bigotry and dishonesty. Both stories are missing the most important elements of life including real love, good marriages, integrity, positive self-images, and treating people well. These stories involve people mostly with the opposite traits. No one should want to live the kind of lives shown in these stories.
Daisy and Carolyn have the most similarities among the main characters. Both are very miserable but they try to present an image of success, happiness and perfection to the world. Both were happy at one time in their lives, Daisy during her years in Memphis and Carolyn when she was early in her marriage and her daughter was young. Now both their marriages are farces. Daisy's husband Tom is cheating on her. Lester is fantasizing about other women and openly hostile towards Carolyn, standing up to her for the first time. Neither loves their husband. In Chapter 2 Myrtle's sister says to Nick "Neither of them can stand the person they are married to" referring to Tom Buchanan's marriage to Daisy and Myrtle's to George Wilson. Lester's hatred of Carolyn is apparent in everything he says to her and how he looks at her. And both show glimpses of how unhappy they are. Carolyn breaks down in tears and anger several times and decides to kill her husband but gets beat to it by the next-door neighbor. And you see that Daisy knows how bad her life is when she tells Nick about what she said when her daughter was born in Chapter 1, "All right, I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she will be a fool-that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." She seems to be saying that she can't be anything better than a fool and she knows it, which makes it worse. In the end she chooses to stay with Tom despite her obvious hatred of him and the fact that Gatsby is willing to do anything for her, including take the fall for killing Myrtle. This shows how awful she is. And Angela is on her way to kill her husband but somebody beats her to it.
It seems that Jay Gatsby and Lester are very different. Gatsby is a millionaire and a man that has had many successes. Lester is working at a burger joint, smoking pot all the time and fantasizes about his daughter's friend. No one looks up to Lester like they do Gatsby. But they are both flawed in similar ways. They are both guys who want to change their lives even if what they do is illegal or hurts others. Both men want women that seem to be awful women. Lester fantasizes about his daughter's best friend Angela who he thinks is beautiful, but she is actually a terribly flawed person. Angela is arrogant, nasty, and conceited as you can possibly be, and she hurts everyone around her. Gatsby wants Daisy, who he builds up to represent perfection and him achieving what he wants in life, but she is actually a shallow terrible person. They both waste their time fantasizing on women that aren't good for them or worth them. Both are delusional about these women too. Lester lifts weights so he can be more attractive to Angela. In Chapter 4 Jordan tells Nick "Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay." This could be like Lester lifting weights to impress Angela, except he is using his fantastic mansion to impress Daisy even though she already chose someone else. Both men don't get what they want in the end, Gatsby loses Daisy and Lester does not take the opportunity Angela offers him. By the end you have sympathy and some admiration for both yet at the end they are hated by others and this leads to their ultimate downfall. Both men are shot and killed by men who accused them of doing something they didn't do-Gatsby of killing Myrtle and Lester of having sex with his killer's son leading to the father revealing his own repressed homosexuality.
There is bullying in both stories as well. Angela, Carolyn and the Colonel all bully throughout American Beauty. Angela makes fun of and demeans anyone that disagrees or interferes with what she wants. She constantly demeans Ricky because he feels he is taking her friend away. The Colonel bullies his son and wife. And Carolyn bullies her husband and daughter. She demeans her husband by reminding him the moneymaker in the family. In Gatsby Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson bully and demean others. Tom demeans and bullies Wilson throughout the story and bullies Myrtle. Gatsby in the scene in the hotel room in Chapter 7 when he says "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife." He is trying to make Gatsby seem worthless since he was poor without a prominent family name. In Chapter II Myrtle demeans her husband when she says "the only crazy I was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed someone's best suit to get married in, and never even told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out." She is demeaning him for being poor. She demeans and bullies him to his face as well. Myrtle always tries to act like she is someone she is not like both Angela and Carolyn in American Beauty. And all three women are very unhappy and insecure underneath.
There are huge differences between the stories and I liked American Beauty much more. Nothing gets resolved in Gatsby. I felt the same way about everyone all the way through. None of the characters were reformed or redeemed in any way. In American Beauty there are several stories of redemption. The main one is Lester standing up for himself and becoming happy. He even dies happy. Ricky stands up to his father. And Jane stands up to her bullying friend Angela and becomes happy with Ricky. She becomes the American Beauty. You even feel sympathy for the characters you hate in American Beauty like the Colonel and Carolyn. In the Great Gatsby the only person that generates any sympathy is Gatsby, but not much, since he is as delusional as ever. Wilson is a sympathetic figure until the end when he kills Gatsby and himself. I feel that readers and viewers want stories where there is a mix of good and bad characters as well as stories of redemption and felt that the Great Gatsby portrayed only bad character so Fitzgerald could convey his feelings for that time.
-----End of Comparison-----
This is an amazing movie that demands to be re-watched. The acting is awesome, and so is the story. Perfect movie.