American Beauty (1999) is held as one of the best modern pieces of American Cinema and deservedly so. The main themes that is tackled seems to be the artificiality of the American Dream and materialism. Lester (Kevin Spacey) is a husband in a mid-life crisis who seeks out to do exactly what he wants, and tries to focus on what’s important in life, (note the sofa scene).
The family made up of Lester, Carolyn (Annette Bening) and the daughter Jane (Thora Birch) are dysfunctional to the highest degree, the father hasn’t spoken to his daughter in months and the mother is obsessed with success and appearance and seems to have also lost sight of what’s most important, her daughter’s upbringing.
The film attempts at symbolising their separation from each other by having each character lead a different narrative strand, they each go about their business, Carolyn has an affair whilst her Husband seems to have stood up for himself whilst he works out in an attempt to seduce his daughters friend Angela (Mena Suvari) whilst her daughter strikes a romance with the new neighbour Ricky (Wes Bentley). This works, and every on-screen confrontation between at least two of them seems to end in a huge argument.
The ending for me was absolutely fantastic, one of my favourite, that moment where Lester (Spacey) sits down whilst starring in nostalgia at the old family picture, finally realising that what is most important is his family, the ending is an obvious metaphor, (spoilers) the death of Lester seems to represent the death of the American Dream, it puts to rest the ugliness and fake-ness of this symbol that was once created.
American Beauty (1999) sits as the 48th best film of all time in IMDB and for me the film represented Sam Mendes’ past in theatre through his great use of lighting and direction, with the help of Conrad L.Hall of course.