Latest Entertainment News Headlines

Why It Works: American Beauty

01.07.2016
100%

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

Guys. BIRDMAN won the Oscar for Best Picture last year. How cool is that? Whether or not it was your pick, it's nice to see the Academy members don't always play it safe when casting their votes. With the Golden Globes airing this weekend and Oscar nominations being announced next week, it'll be interesting to see which of 2015's less traditional films make the cut. My personal favorite Best Picture winner (let me know what yours is below) certainly checks the unorthodox box, though it's also standard Oscar fare in many ways. With no real plot, a dead narrator, and more than one scene featuring the 42-year-old protagonist saying hi to his monster, AMERICAN BEAUTY breaks all the right rules and holds the honor of 1999's Academy Award for Best Picture. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

Beyond anything else, AMERICAN BEAUTY is a character study. While Lester Burnham narrates the film as our protagonist, all six of the film's main characters eventually reveal themselves to be sympathetic, complicated, and vulnerable people. Lester himself is the frustrated everyman, bored with his life and about two seconds from cracking. Not only is it easy enough to root for a milquetoast character who wants more out of life, but the upfront knowledge that he is going to die adds another layer of sympathy and intrigue to the mix. Lester's wife Carolyn represents exactly what Lester deplores about the suburban mindset, her values based in appearance and financial success. As soon as we see the painful "I will sell this house today" scene, however, we see that Carolyn also feels beaten down by her lifestyle, though she chooses to repress her feelings rather than give credence to them.

"See the way the handle on her pruning shears matches her gardening clogs? That's not an accident."

Rounding out the adults is Colonel Frank Fitts, who, Like Carolyn, is driven by a "this is just how things are" mindset. We don't learn his story until late into the film, but, as expected, Frank is also covering up his true self by choosing to latch onto a false persona. Frank's son Ricky, on the other hand, represents the complete other end of the spectrum. Ricky lives exactly as his heart tells him, resulting in a fearlessness and sensitivity that serves as a catalyst to several characters in the film. While Jane is certainly the closest character in attitude to Ricky, we see moments of her being pulled into the world of appearance over substance, not doubt inspired by her friendship with Angela Hayes, a seemingly two-dimensional character whose vulnerability and true self are revealed in the sobering final scene.

Leave it to Allison Janney to break our hearts with less than four minutes of screen time.

WHY WE CARE:

An early draft of the film involved an investigation into Lester's murder, with Jane and Ricky's tape leading to their trial and Carolyn's gun and Frank's bloody clothes adding to the case. While this sounds pretty silly given the finished product, the "murder mystery" element of AMERICAN BEAUTY certainly helps arouse interest and curiosity in a relatively unfocused plot. The idea of peeling back the layers of a seemingly idyllic community to show what lies beneath is captivating, but there has to be more to drive the story forward. This is where the focus on Lester is key. Right from Lester's first scene with his supervisor, we see a character already about to snap. That said, Ricky's care-free nature and the fantasy of Angela certainly expedite Lester's awakening; rather than chasing a tangible objective, Lester is chasing freedom from mediocrity. Our sympathy for Lester goes along way toward letting this be enough of a driving force in the film, but the fascinating nature of the other characters and the whodunit approach keeps this from being just another slice of life film.

"Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser... and they're right. I have lost something"

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

The simple formula to close out your average Hollywood movie is to have your protagonist learn his lesson and ride off happily into the sunset. That's all well and good, but having your protagonist learn his lesson too late is so much more interesting. By the end of the film, Lester says, "I'm great," showing relief and satisfaction he probably hasn't felt since the summer he spent flipping burgers as a kid. "Man oh man... Man oh man oh man..." Bang. Dead Lester. Lester's death in this moment feels like punishment for all the years he let himself be unhappy. Where a character like Ricky strives to absorb all the beauty in the world, Lester let himself get caught up in the grind, losing gratitude, perspective, and self-respect along the way. So as not to end on a complete down note, Lester delivers a final monologue from beyond. It's the viewer's choice where exactly Lester is broadcasting from, but it offers a glimmer of hope that beauty doesn't stop when we do.

"Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in."

WHY WE REMEMBER:

Since it's award season, let's break this section down by Oscar. Alan Ball's script (Winner: Best Screenplay) is the foundation upon which AMERICAN BEAUTY (Winner: Best Picture) stands. The dialogue is understated, funny, challenging, and biting, the characters are deep enough to drive the story, and flecks of symbolism contribute to both the aesthetic and philosophy of the story. Sam Mendes (Winner: Best Director) not only brought Ball's script to life but also made difficult decisions regarding what to cut and what to focus on. Mendes' direction in conjunction with Conrad L. Hall's photography (Winner: Best Cinematography) and Tariq Anwar and Christopher Greenbury's editing (Nominated: Best Editing) find the balance between this being a light suburban comedy and a dark, distressing art film. Similarly, Thomas Newton Howard's score (Nominated: Best Original Score) is like standing in a Bank of America slowly sliding off the edge of a cliff. Finally, this film is nothing without the impressive performances. Kevin Spacey (Winner: Best Actor) and Annette Bening (Nominated: Best Actress) are absolute powerhouses, with Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, and Allison Janney rounding out the stunning cast. As is usually the case, it's not just one thing here that sticks out but rather a sum greater than its parts. Oh, and don't ask me what the roses mean. That's up to you.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Source: JoBlo.com

RECOMMENDED MOVIE NEWS

MORE FUN FROM AROUND THE WEB

Strikeback
Not registered? Sign-up!
Or

2:59PM on 01/08/2016

One of my favorites!

I think everyone can relate to Lester in some degree. Maybe not to the same extremes, or not enough to act on it, but we can all relate. Which is why I think the movie works so well.
I think everyone can relate to Lester in some degree. Maybe not to the same extremes, or not enough to act on it, but we can all relate. Which is why I think the movie works so well.
Your Reply:



Please email me when someone replies to my comment
-1
2:31PM on 01/08/2016

9/10.

Some sub-gernes will never become dated. One of them is the "Doing what everyone always feel like doing but don't because it goes against society's rules" type of dark comedy. That's why WILD TALES was such a hit last year too.

It's also a well-made production. The last line (which LESTER narrates) gave me goosebumps, partly because he says it after the fade out.

1999 is considered to be the best year for movies. That makes it easier for people to claim that this movie didn't deserve to
Some sub-gernes will never become dated. One of them is the "Doing what everyone always feel like doing but don't because it goes against society's rules" type of dark comedy. That's why WILD TALES was such a hit last year too.

It's also a well-made production. The last line (which LESTER narrates) gave me goosebumps, partly because he says it after the fade out.

1999 is considered to be the best year for movies. That makes it easier for people to claim that this movie didn't deserve to win. While it wasn't my favorite of that year, I'm still glad it won. And I don't always love Best Picture winners.
Your Reply:



Please email me when someone replies to my comment
12:40PM on 01/08/2016
Why we like the characters: Cuz Mena Suvari shows us her Boobs.
Why we care: Cuz Mena Suvari shows us her Boobs.
Why we are satisfied: Cuz Mena Suvari Showed us her Boobs.
Why we remember: Cuz Mena Suvari Showed us her Boobs.

LOL
Why we like the characters: Cuz Mena Suvari shows us her Boobs.
Why we care: Cuz Mena Suvari shows us her Boobs.
Why we are satisfied: Cuz Mena Suvari Showed us her Boobs.
Why we remember: Cuz Mena Suvari Showed us her Boobs.

LOL
Your Reply:



Please email me when someone replies to my comment
2:58PM on 01/08/2016
More like lack of boobs...
More like lack of boobs...
11:25AM on 01/08/2016
I loved this movie.


" I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life..."
I loved this movie.


" I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life..."
Your Reply:



Please email me when someone replies to my comment
8:35AM on 01/08/2016

Thank you!!!

This was the last time I jumped and cheered, like someone ran in for a touchdown, when a movie won best picture. "American Beauty" is a personal favorite of mine, it maybe my favorite movie of all time. Let's start with the character of Lester Burnham. Kevin Spacey, who plays an original character not based on anyone, is just incredible with both the drama and comedy. I laughed so many times in this movie due to his antics but also thought about life with a lot what he did and said.
This was the last time I jumped and cheered, like someone ran in for a touchdown, when a movie won best picture. "American Beauty" is a personal favorite of mine, it maybe my favorite movie of all time. Let's start with the character of Lester Burnham. Kevin Spacey, who plays an original character not based on anyone, is just incredible with both the drama and comedy. I laughed so many times in this movie due to his antics but also thought about life with a lot what he did and said. He wasn't a pedophile. People forget that he didn't go through with it at the end with a girl who was 18. She just awoke the passion for life he lost. He changed everyone else's lives around him in the process when he went through his mid life crisis. Carol slowly realizes that she is all about the money, Jane realizes she is the real beauty, Angela realizes she is vapid and scared and Frank comes to terms with his repressed homosexuality. All of this plays out with some of the most beautiful cinematography ever put on film. People can say what they want about this film but they can't deny the power of the imagery. The screenplay is a masterpiece. Ball is so insightful then so bitingly funny. What a great first movie for Mendes who got everything right. We laugh and cheer at the changes Lester goes though but at the end we realize, as he does, that his life, and probably ours, aren't as bad as we think. We all just have to LOOK CLOSER and be happy with what we have, even though we should succeed to be better. I have seen many films, being a movie addict, but VERY few have touched me as American Beauty did. I think I saw it four times in the theater, this was before I got my driver's license so I dragged parents, older cousins, and friends to see it, and each time I saw something new and always felt the same thing I did when I first saw it. This movie came out in 1999 and 17 years later I still am in awe of it. To all the younger schmoes...please give this a chance. It is one of the best movies of the 90's, and personally, one of my favorites of all time.
Your Reply:



Please email me when someone replies to my comment
View All Comments

Latest Entertainment News Headlines


Top
Loading...

Featured Youtube Videos

Views and Counting

Movie Hottie Of The Week

More