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  • Daniel Rae

American Beauty Review


"American Beauty", Jinks/Cohen Company, 1999


I very much appreciate how Mendez decided to tackle the conflicting ideologies that carry the modern notion of the American Dream, giving audiences a glimpse into the life of a broken family through an interesting lens that pokes fun at the comedy-drama genre whilst still managing to poignantly highlight the downfall of family and national identity.

Whilst this film only takes place through the eyes of the people who reside in the suburbs, it manages to utilize this type of gaze to offer a window into more internal conflict these individuals are going through and their strive for freedom. This is where I think Mendez manages to capture perfectly the tone of the screenplay. Spacey in this film is a delight to watch, which in itself is a tool for the satire-tinged mellow-dramatic aesthetic that the audience can't help but latch onto

with how outrageously on-the-nose the character's curve in motivations and representation is. Shaped by his primal sense of lustful desire which is often presented in a surrealist style, this film is very much aware of the emotional weight of a character like Spacey's, but outwardly decides to place this character in a world that is way too forthright and romantic about the ideas that shapes it, often making more dramatic scenes somewhat humorous, and I admire the lengths Mendez wanted to orchestrate this. The music that accompanies his infatuation with Angela is tinged with a disturbing undertone, underlining the saddening reality of not being able to escape the social responsibilities that weighs him down. The articulate compositions of mise en scene and clean camera movement that removes a layer of identification and reminds audiences of their place in the real world looking in. The tonal consistency that manages to be structured by a mid-paced rhythm is also admirable considering the tropes that the story has to lean on before adopting a more self-reflexive edge.

Nevertheless, whilst I can appreciate this approach in tackling the psycho-geography of suburban America, the placement and treatment behind some characters feels out of place and dismantles the specific type of feel this film aims for. I can understand the need for a "disturbed" child to have a equally flawed father with problems of his own haunting his want for the traditional notion of masculinity, the way he stands in the overall narrative structure feels more like a device rather than an actual character. This can be seen with the use of shadow that often coats him, which falls outside the psychologically-tormented pastel colour palette the neighbourhood is presented with.

Overall, this film does a good job in finding entertainment value in examining how identity is shaped by the fear of failure in living up to our social purpose. Well-written, a good cast that understands the intricacies behind the facade of the type of person that they live in and good direction that manages to bring out the dark underbelly of the somewhat goofy story. The only flaw I see is the unresolved approach towards the story that ties these personalities together.


4/5 Stars

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