One of the best family dramas ever made. So this is about a married man at a crossroad in his life (Kevin Spacey). He has an awakening in the form of a midlife crisis. He realizes nothing about his pedestrian life is bringing him happiness, and decides for the first time ever to take action. Everything about this film is executed to perfection. The acting is brilliant, and there is not a single weak link in the cast. On paper, it may appear that these characters are just types: a father having a breakdown, a frigid mother, an angry teenage girl, a homophobic military man and a mysterious neighbor, but everybody fully commits, and breathes a lot of life into every single moment, and as a result, you get fully developed real characters.
The writing is remarkable. This is penned by Alan Ball of Six Feet Under fame (and he wrote the finale, which means he’s responsible for what is arguably the best television episode of all time, period), and if there’s one thing he knows how to do, it is family drama in suburbia. This movie is filled with so many great quotable lines which lead to wholly memorably scenes that you hold on to long after you walk away. It always hints at something brewing just beneath the surface, and you get to watch this entire family hit their boiling point at the same time, which means everybody’s dirty laundry gets aired. The dinner scene and the drive-through scene stand out in a movie filled with standout scenes.
Completing the hat trick, the direction by Sam Mendes on this is masterful, and he brings the writing and the acting together in spectacular fashion. He knows exactly where to add artistic flair, and how to do it tastefully, without breaching the realm of inaccessibility. In less capable hands, this would come off as one-dimensionally creepy; running storylines featured here include an obsessed high schooler who films his neighbor through the upstairs window, and a father wanting to romance his daughter’s friend who is less than half his age. Because Mendes has tact, it comes off as being sympathetic instead of weird.
American Beauty fires on all cylinders, and if you haven’t seen it before, you are in for a real treat. It’s so quality, you don’t even really notice the passage of time, and the 2 hour runtime just flies by. One nifty, unexpected element to this film is that it is very motivational; if this washed up 40-year-old man can take the reins back on his droll existence and get back on the road to happiness, why can’t you? This is one of the best dramas ever made, and it is one of my all-time favorites.
American Beauty (1999) *****
– Critic for Hire