Somebody please tell director Sam Mendes that a man going through a mid-life crisis is hardly an original idea. Toss in a little "Lolita" and a bit of "War of the Roses", and suddenly somebody thinks "American Beauty" has all the makings of an original screenplay. Hardly.
Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a frustrated journalist in the guise of a telemarketer, trapped in a cube and saddled with a little phone headset. Somehow it's just occurred to him that his life sucks. Gee, really? The second he got a job that required him to wear a phone headset he should have figured his life was heading downhill. He tells the audience in a voiceover at the beginning that he will be dead within a year, which really had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for the ending.
His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening) is a woman so obsessed with appearances that she matches the color of her shoes and her hedge clippers. What kind of anal-retentive does something like that, and furthermore, what man doesn't look at a wife who's spent her time coordinating her gardening apparel and immediately think about impaling himself on a hoe? Lester is also bummed that his 16-year-old daughter, Jane (Thora Birch) doesn't love him. At a school pep rally Lester becomes obsessed with Jane's friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and decides to change his life so that Angela, presumably, will want to screw him.
If this sounds slightly deranged and unrealistic, it is. Critics have already begun gawking at the cinematography and direction. Wow, if illuminating a red door to signal danger is great cinematography, my pet rabbit is looking for work. Like most other directors, Mendes is a commercial hack, which is why both Birch and Suvari appear topless at some point -- so horny teenagers will slog through two hours of middle-aged drivel to get there.
Neither shot is necessary. Jane flashes her tits at a neighbor, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who's taken to filming her. Angela's tits appear later on. Since both characters are supposed to be sixteen, isn't this vicarious child pornography even though the actresses might actually be eighteen? And what's with Chris Cooper, who plays Ricky's retired military father? Did they import his character from "October Sky"? Maybe this is what really happens to people when they hit forty-two, but that's what you get for living in the suburbs. If you don't like your life, change it, otherwise, "American Beauty" proves that it's best to keep it to yourself.
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