Sam Mendes (1999, Dreamworks)
Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, and Peter Gallagher
The father in a dysfunctional family decides to turn his life
around, by doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
View Count: Twice
February 15th, 2003
This movie starts out really funny.
We are meant to laugh at how stupid life can be, how silly people can be
when longing for what they don't have. The prime example is Caroline's sarcasm
to her daughter, "are you trying to look unattractive?" or to her
husband, "can you make me any later..." with the terrific response by
Lester: his briefcase opens, spilling its entire contents onto the lawn!
The laughs come less often as the movie progresses, but that is
because each of the characters begins to see how tragic their lives are,
wondering what they can do to change it.
There are three truly beautiful moments in the movie (among others), all
when characters begin to realize that things are better than they
thought. The first comes when Ricky spells Jane's name on the driveway
in gasoline. Looking in the mirror from Ricky's point of view, we see a
thin smile on Jane's face, indicating that she appreciates somebody
finally taking an interest in her. She won't have to resort to breast
enhancement surgery (aren't hers large enough?) to attract men. If only
she would smile more...
The second moment also includes Jane. When she and Angela meet Ricky
after school, he is again looking at her through the video camera. She
asks him briskly to stop filming her. His response: "Okay", and he puts
the camera away. Is this the first person who has treated her with such
respect? It was a terrific moment.
The last truly beautiful moment comes just before Lester is killed. He
has just realized that he doesn't need a teenage lover, beautiful as she
is, to make him happy. He looks at a picture of his family, true beauty,
and realizes that he is grateful to have them. Giving himself to his
family is what makes him truly happy. It's ironic that in the next
moment, he is dead.
Out of the three families that we meet in this story, in houses
side-by-side-by-side, it's funny to notice that the gay couple are the
most normal. (Aside from seeing Enterprise's Captain Archer in
that role.) Ricky's family is so dysfunctional that the mother has moved
into another world, and Jane's is so dull and boring. She thinks she
needs a role model? They all do!
This brings me to the subject of the Colonel's sexuality. I missed it
the first time watching this movie, but this time I got the distinct
feeling that he is gay, but can't cope with it. He talks rudely about
the gay couple, goes nuts when he thinks his son is interested in
another man, and barely pays attention to his wife. However, he suddenly
sees it as a possibility to explore his feelings when he thinks his son
is giving Lester oral sex. When rejected, he can't handle it anymore,
and ends up killing Lester.
It's nice to have this film in widescreen DVD. The extras are pretty
sparse, though mildly entertaining. I just love the trailers for this
movie, and played them over again a few times (though there is very
little difference between the two -one seems to be PG rated, though,
with some words changed). The storyboard comparison was different,
though I had a lot of trouble listening to these two guys talk for an
hour. It was as if they had no idea what to say half the time, with lots
of annoying pauses. This movie was released a few years ago, however,
when DVDs were fairly new. There was lots of patting each other on the
back, though. I didn't listen to the director's commentary, but I expect
it was much of the same stuff from the storyboard comparison. Finally,
the twenty minute behind-the-scenes featurette is not worth the time.
The interviews are a bonus, but most of it is a replay of highlights
from the movie, with very long running times, for a recap.
The movie itself was great. I thought perhaps it could have used further
resolution after Lester was killed, but since the movie took place from
his point of view, with his voice-over, maybe it is best the way it did
January 29th, 2000 in the Theatre
I really liked this
movie, although I think I can honestly say that I disliked every single
character in the movie. Each one was sad and tragic in his or her
own way, but only one was willing to do anything about it. But he
wasn't the only one who realized that his life was in such a sorry state
Mr. Burnham hardly speaks to his wife and daughter. He
has a pathetic job, and his boss wants an excuse to fire him. His
wife is an unsuccessful real estate agent, who is completely envious of
the man who is selling the most houses in the neighbourhood. She
is meticulous, and loves her things more than anything else. The
handles to her rose bush shears match her gardening apron.
Their daughter, Jane, is a cheerleader for the school basketball
team. She hates both her parents, because she can see how fake they
are, and how pathetic they are. She doesn't realize that she is pathetic,
too, wallowing in her self pity. Her best friend, Angela, is a blond
goddess who seems to have slept with the world, and she gives Jane all
the juicy details of every encounter. All she seems to talk about
Just moved in next door to Jane and her parents is a military
family. The father believes in structure and discipline, to the point
that he makes his son take urine samples every six months to be tested
for drugs. The son is actually a drug dealer, and has a pediatric
nurse as a client who supplies him with clean urine. He doesn't have
feelings for anything except true beauty, and is very good at telling people
what they want to hear. His mother is inert most of the time, basically
refusing to come to terms with her dysfunctional family.
These are all the characters, and they are all we need.
While attending a seminar with the real estate rival, Mrs. Burnham gets
to know him a little better, and they start having an affair. At
the same seminar, Mr. Burnham is impressed when his drug dealing neighbour
quits his job on the spot. The next day, he quits his job and blackmails
his company into giving him a really good severance package. This
is the start of the change in his life.
He and his wife attend a basketball game, to watch Jane, and
he immediately falls for Angela. He begins fantasizing about her
all the time, which leads to a hilarious scene where his wife catches him
masturbating in bed.
The first half of the movie is truly very funny. As Burnham
starts falling apart, and changing his life drastically, we can get a kick
out of how silly life is and was, and people's reactions when the rules
of life are broken. Overhearing Angela say to Jane that she would
sleep with her father if he firmed up his muscles, he dives downstairs
to find his weights. He even takes up jogging.
The second half of the movie is deadly serious. Burnham
catches his wife with the other man, Jane takes up with her next door neighbour,
and wishes her father dead. Burnham finally succeeds in seducing
Angela, after she and Jane have a big fight about beauty. But Burnham
realizes that he is finally happy, and decides at the last moment that
he doesn't need Angela. His wife takes up shooting at the firing
range, and we think she'll put the training to good use.
The most sympathetic character, I thought, was Angela.
It was obvious that she was very shallow, but as the movie progressed,
I could see that she was desperately in need of love. She needed
to be thought beautiful, extraordinary, and she was never sure that she
fit into that category. By the end, she is reassured. For Mr.
Burnham, she is the American Beauty.
But the most beautiful one was Jane. She was great.
She is dumped into self-pity, but is beginning to see her way in life.
She takes to her neighbour because she needs to see her own beauty.
When she smiles, Thora Birch totally eclipses blonde Mena Suvari.
The true beauty in the title, I think, comes from the neighbour's
video collection. He tapes everything, in the hopes of catching beauty
in life, somewhere. He sees it in Jane, to the point where he sees
how shallow Angela is. But the most beautiful thing he has ever taped
is a plastic bag floating in the wind.