"Lindsey, honey, close your eyes," my parents demanded when I watched American Beauty for the first time. I surely wasn't older than seven or eight. My parents had little restriction in our house when it came to R-rated movies. As long as I closed my eyes before the sex scenes, there was no fuss.
Having this sort of freedom meant I could watch a lot of mature classics at a young age, except I couldn't comprehend the conflicts in the films I would watch. I could never rehash the plot: I was only eight years old! I would stay engaged in a film because the colors looked pretty or the music was fun. I just wanted to feel like an adult, so I'd stick around until the credits.
My parents hated American Beauty. We never watched it again.
I just remember liking the bright red roses.
It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I'd view this film again, as a sexual psychology homework assignment. Talk about a culture shift.
American Beauty became, in an instant, the most visually stunning, beautifully written film I had ever seen, and I have yet to see a film I favor more. American Beauty changed the way I look at film, the ways in which I view art and family and happiness, and the course of my educational pursuits. I transferred to Columbia College to pursue a film degree the following semester.
I could give a brief one-liner about the film, such as: - A man with family in American suburbia tries to break out of a mid-life crisis. - Cliche American suburbia isn't as pristine as it appears. - Things happen, a gun goes off, and there's some weed and kiddie porn fantasies involved.
Rather than do that, I'll just reiterate how life-changing this film was for me. Sam Mendes makes his feature film directorial debut with such artistry. Visually, this film is a treat. Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall's work on American Beauty puts color palette and shot composition at the forefront to illustrate the first impression of a classic American suburb. I'm a personal fan of color motifs, and the fiery reds in this film are brought out with such distinction.
Thomas Newman is credited with composing the musical soundscape, a regular choice for nearly every film Mendes has directed; and with good reason. Newman unifies despair, intrigue, beauty, and hope in the same soundtrack.
The script alone is beauty. Ricky Fitts is such a fascinating, hopeful character with more baggage than we can even uncover throughout the film. Kevin Spacey stars as lead Lester Burnham, a man who goes through one of the greatest personality changes I've ever seen. His actions and emotions are raw and dynamic, all the way up until the final scene.
I remember the moment I went home to visit and tell my parents how much I enjoyed American Beauty. They hardly recalled the film. I raved about it for weeks to my family and friends, finally able to pinpoint my favorite elements and analyze a film for so much more than mere story content. This was the first film my parents and I had polar disagreement on, and it felt great. We are all entitled to our own individual taste; without it, film wouldn't be considered art. I still recognize American Beauty as being the first film to really open my eyes and begin paving the way for me and my vision as a filmmaker.
Film is so much more than a story, but it all starts with one. American Beauty provided one of the most complex, naturalistic stories I've witnessed onscreen in my entire twenty years. And while I may not have understood the story at age eight, I did like the bright red roses.
And you know what? I still do.
In the words of Lester Burnham, "I feel like I've been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I'm just now waking up."
–American Beauty is available on DVD and iTunes for download.
–review by LINDSEY MAZUR