American Beauty [Blu-Ray]

Sam Mendes

BY Robert BellPublished Sep 28, 2010

Because the narrative structure and thematic implications of American Beauty and related series Six Feet Under changed the landscape of film and television so dramatically when they broke onto the scene, revisiting these works now that so many others have mirrored and copied their techniques is quite a curious exercise. Certainly, the power of the piece holds up, with Lester Burnham's (Kevin Spacey) rebellion against the cage of suburban existence ringing as true as wife Carolyn's (Annette Bening) struggle to manage both the domestic and professional roles of a modern woman. But some of the thrill is gone. It's still funny when Lester tells efficiency expert Brad Dupree that his job is a giant waste of time, with only his routine bathroom jerk-off sustaining his daily routine, just as it is when he makes an ass of himself flirting with his insecure daughter Jane's (Thora Birch) best friend Angela (Mena Suvari). But because these scenarios, and this melding of insightful human drama with inappropriate comedy, have become so ubiquitous within the modern suburban satire and dysfunctional family drama, it feels dated and less revolutionary, leaving only the memory of what it was like to see this movie the first time. Despite the many detractors of this film — traditionalists annoyed by the implication that everything we strive for is a big pile of bullshit — this full engagement with culture, moulding cinema that followed, demonstrates that, like it or not, American Beauty mattered and still does. In the "American Beauty: Look Closer" supplement and feature-length commentary track with Sam Mendes and Alan Ball, this notion of quotidian banality is discussed, along with the importance of finding beauty in every fleeting moment. The actors and producers talk about their surprise with the wide success of the film, given that it seemed like an unconventional risk to take, at the time. It contextualizes the time and cultural relevance now that we have some distance and perspective.
(Paramount Pictures)

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