TMS 30 Greatest Movies: #20 American Beauty

January 29, 2008 | Comments (0) | by Rich Funk

Title: American Beauty
Year: 1999
Genre: Drama/Dark Comedy
Main Actors: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher
Ranked: Daft Funk #2, Dave Thomas #17

American Beauty is the story of Lester Burnham (Spacey), a man going through a mid life crisis. He can't stand his boring life with his domineering wife (Benning) and boring daughter (Thora Birch). After a chance encounter with his pot-smoking neighbor (an excellent Wes Bentley) and forming a crush on his daughter's teenage friend (Suvari), Burnham decides to take charge of his life.

Reasons This Movie Kicks Ass
The main reason this movie kicks ass is because it's one of those "good movies" that absolutely everyone can relate to. It's sophisticated, but without coming off as pretentious. It's depressing, but in an uplifting way. It's somber, but wickedly sarcastic. Basically, you can describe this movie as either a drama with very funny characters and circumstances, or the darkest comedy you'll ever see. Either way, it works.

The acting in this movie is fantastic and every role is cast to perfection. You know these people. You've met Lester Burnham in line at the bank. You've ran across his wife at church on Sunday. You hung out with his daughter Jane in high school even though you couldn't stand her bitchy cheerleader best friend. You've got the pot-smoking teenage loner neighbor and his homophobic ex-military father. You've got the neighborhood gay couple. You know all of these people, and yet none of them come across as static or stereotypical. Whether you love or hate this movie, it definitely keeps you thinking for long after the "twist" ending, which actually works and doesn't feel forced (Are you listening, Mr. Shyamalan?).

Monster Role
This one is a tough one. Common logic would say to go with Spacey, who deservingly won the Oscar for Best Actor. But the monster role of the film was Chris Cooper's military father next door. Sure, we've seen Chris Cooper play the military guy/government agent before in...well, everything. But never has Cooper given a performance as nuanced and forceful as his portrayal of Col. Frank Fitts. While far from the main character of the story, you can argue that Col. Fitts is the most important person in the entire film.

Speaking of Monster Roles, it's sad that Thora Birch and Wes Bentley completely fell off the map after this movie. I thought they both did excellent jobs (especially Bentley), and neither of them did anything with the momentum they had coming off this Best Picture winner. At least Thora Birch has had the sense to make bad movies that no one hears about. Bentley not only sucked it up in last year's Ghost Rider, but also embarrassed himself in the parking garage thriller(!) P2 last year.

Knock Your Dick In The Dirt Moment
I'd pick the end of the movie. Unlike lots of twist/surprise endings, this one actually sneaks up on you. And you can't say you weren't fooled. After all, Lester told you it was coming at the beginning of the movie.

But since I can't go into detail without giving anything away, I think the scene where Lester quits his job is downright KYDITD-worthy. Who among us doesn't dream about telling off the corporate suits in charge? When asked to write up an analysis of what he does each day, Lester gives the following essay to his boss:

"My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell."

Or this nugget from the monologue leading off the movie:

"Look at me, jerking off in the shower... This will be the high point of my day; it's all downhill from here."

Who can't relate to that?

Watch this movie if you like.....
Dark comedy, the dude from Quantum Leap, Peter Gallagher's eyebrows, barely legal knockers.

"I rule."