Wednesday, 29 February 2012

American Beauty

Now to my recent film viewing and first a repeat of film seen in theatre in 1999 and since on TV: American Beauty with two actors who never fail to give A class performances Kevin Spacey and Angela Bening. The film won Oscar Best Picture, Best Direction for Sam Members Best Actor of Spacey, Best original Screenplay and Best cinema photography.

First my take on the film which I regard as a fair and good account of that point in a marriage when periodic sex, however good, is not sufficient cement to prevent both partners remembering and wanting to recapture past experience, assuming it was better or panicking that they will miss out on what they believe others imply is better. In addition and and argued more important is when one or both lose respect for the other and the values they have developed.
Bening has become a consumer queen, protective of the expensive goods she has surrounded herself to advertise who she was and critical of Spacey’s failure to want and achieve more. She is a property real estate agent and admires the local Mr Success man despite the fact that he is a class A shit. Eventually she balls him to her great personal satisfaction and then is distraught when he finds the excuse to reject her an all too common experience which goes on in many a marriage, almost unnoticed. However this is a side show to the life Kevin leads.

Kevin Spacey is Lester a middle aged magazine writer a job he has come to loathe. When he about to be sacked he is able to blackmail his way to a $60000 pay off which buys him time to work out what to do. (The subject of what happens to high earners when they are laid off will be covered at an entirely different level of seriousness in Company Men which is to follow and which was also the subject of the George Clooney film Up in the Air where he flew around America getting rid of executives).

When Lester’s cash begins to run out and he becomes bored with doing nothing he remembers how much he enjoyed working at in a fast food restaurant but has to talk himself into getting a job because of his age and previous job levels. He is very satisfied by the work which leads him to finding our about his wife’s infidelity when she arrives in the drive in lane with the lover.

However Lester’s attention is elsewhere. He is persuaded to attend his daughter’s high school where she is a cheerleader basketball game he is attention is caught by the sixteen year old best friend of his daughter who is clearly glittered by his attention. She is sixteen to make it legal for most USA and Western audiences but in reality n she could have been any age from fourteen to twenty to make the same point.

She gives the impression of being highly experienced sexually, attracted to older men and ridicules the virginity of the daughter who is a young woman with low self esteem. The two frequently spar over the subject and the daughter Jane who becomes the subject of interest to the son of a retired Marine Colonel who has moved in next door, finds the way her father and friend interact as gross.

Lester begins to lust after the beautiful creature which the camera is always surrounding with bright red rose petals to emphasise the romantic as well as sexual attraction (I know it also a take on the suburban concept of American Beauty). His interest is fired when he overhears a conversation between daughter and friend in which Angela says she would be interested in him if only he worked out and got into better shape. This provides Lester with a mission so he starts to work out.

Lester also makes friends his daughter’s friend who although on probation for alleged drug use is in fact the neighbourhood supplier of good stuff marijuana. Ricky only deals to provide funds for his hobby which is film and photography and the room is filled with tapes with his favourite which he views on TV that of a white plastic bag floating and which he shares with Jane.

Unfortunately as it transpires he unintentionally films Kevin working out naked which his father sees and then when he goes over to the gym to provide a new supply of stuff, his father misjudges what he can see as a gay relationship. When he confronts his son, the son who is fed up with living at home does not deny the charge as a means of being thrown out and providing the impetus for his ambition to go and live in New York. He has no difficulty in persuading Jane to go with him.

Jane has criticised Angela for her interest in Lester and Ricky tells her that she is ordinary. Angela is left alone in the house with Lester and makes a play for him. On the bed ready to give herself she discloses that she is a virgin and hopes he will not be disappointed. This jolts Kevin into the reality of the situation and although she feels she is being rejected he is able to comfort in a fatherly way and the two bond despite the gulf in experience and perspectives.

The problem is that the Marine Colonel is closet gay and full of passion comes over to Lester and kisses him. Rejected he returns home in a distrubed state.

We are told early on in the film that this is night when the life of Lester ends and in the film is his all of life flashback in those self aware moments before death. We see him in a pool of vivid blood and hear him saying that he has no regrets as to how his life ended. The film is ambiguous over who shoots Lester with the most likely the colonel as we see one of his guns missing while the wife who is just as disturbed after her rejection is also returning home with a gun placed in the glove compartment.

So from my perspective American Beauty is film which should be judged as a glossy story with good acting and great photography set in suburban middle class America but others have elevated to a different level about notions of beauty, romantic and parental loves as well as sexuality. It is also about the impact of consumerism and materialism and alienation which many come to feel in middle age coming up and immediately after retirement, plus ways of achieving self liberation and redemption. In fairness it is all the latter dressed up and softened in such a way to provide weekend entertainment and challenge rather than attack its audience with perhaps the Middle America tea party value that even to lust after something or someone has a price in the present as well as the afterlife.
The focal point can be said to be the sequence of the paper bag. It is only in a comfortable middle and upper class society that a mini film about a floating paper bag can be considered art or entertaining when for billions of people in the world the challenge and is sufficient food and water, avoiding mortal sickness and the rape and slaughter by ones neighbours or government

No comments:

Post a Comment