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"American Beauty"

After three reviews on the trot that were – franky – downers, finally a film to get excited out! American Beauty was fab. It gripped me from the opening sequence through to the end credits. It set up a fantastic tension in the opening voice-over that was resolved in the final 5 minutes, but kept me guessing how it was going to resolve the whole way through the film.

It was a film of suprises – as often as not scenes ended up taking a radically different route from the one I was expecting. The characters were also full of surprises, and I think it was quite deliberate that most of them had at least one suprising secret that you wouldn’t have guessed.. or at least not until just before it was revealed.

Basically all the major players had fairly significant character flaws, but still ended up being very sympathetic. You actually feel sorry for the drug dealer, or the grown man who acts out sexual fantasies about his schoolgirl daughter’s friend! In fact the only character I didn’t feel the least bit sympathetic for was Carolyn – Lester’s wife (wonderfully played by Annette Bening)

The story revolves about Lester (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged sub-urbanite who hates his life but doesn’t care enough to do anything about it. The film opens with him informing us that his life sucks, but that in a year’s time he’ll be dead, and then procedes to tell this story. I had understood that the film was about a man having an affair with a schoolgirl and it wrecking his marriage/life – in many ways this is almost exactly back to front. Lester has a wrecked marriage/life, and his infatuation with said schoolgirl (Mena Suvari, playing Angela, who I didn’t really find all that to be honest) is what wakes him up from his stupor and start making changes. Don’t get me wrong – there’s no doubt Angela is very sexy, but beautiful enough to inspire such obsession? Not so sure. In fact I only really warmed to Angela in the last 5 or 10 minutes of the film – I won’t spoil it by saying why, but by the time the credits came she was a character I liked. The fantasy seems were done really nicely too. You couldn’t avoid the publicity shots of Angela naked except for rose petals – but all those scenes only happened in Lester’s mind, the bright red petals being the common theme. Another nice touch was the seemless slide into fantasy – where did reality start and Lester’s thoughts begin? I also like the fact that, despite being an 18, it avoided the gratuitous/pornography kick. Sure we saw a couple of bare chests along the way, and a bottom one or twice, but nothing explicit. I think it made the film stronger.

Anyway, back to the plot… In the meantime – not necessarily in this order – his wife starts having an affair, his daughter starts going out with Wes – the boy next door (who, incidentally, has been secretly/not-so-secretly filming her on a video camera), he gets the sack, starts doing drugs, and winds up with a naked Angela on the sofa while his wife comes home from the shooting range with a loaded gun…

.. then again, his daughter had possibly hired Wes to kill her dad, said Wes’s father (an ex-marine) has just thrown Wes out, believing Lester paid Wes for gay sex, which didn’t make him too happy…

Thankfully this is a pre-“Lost in translation” film, which means we do actually find out what happened, who did it, and why.. and while there isn’t any resolution of the bigger picture, all the questions the film poses are tied up by the end – and I like films which do that. That’s not to say it’s a staid film. It had plenty of surprises along the way, great acting from everyone, a cracking story.

As for the title? Well, the whole film is really a study of beauty and where different people find it. In furniture, in schoolgirls, in a plastic bag dancing in the wind, ….
One to own? Tough call.. I’m not convinced I’d watch it again unless it happened to be on TV while I was channel hopping. One to watch? Without a doubt.

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