Starring: Kevin Spacey, Mena Suvari, Annette Bening, Thora Birch Director: Sam Mendes
I am happy to write a review of this wonderful film. It won Oscars for best director, best lead actor, best screenplay, and best picture. If you watch it just once, you will understand why. Kevin Spacey (best actor) plays Lester Burnham. Lester is going through a mid-life crisis. He is bored, apathetic, and uninspired. He lives in the suburb... (See the whole review)
I agree with Bob Palin. This screenplay objectively falls into the "stylistically great but philosophically awful" category, a classification that Ayn Rand spoke of often when dealing with esthetics.
It's true that American Beauty eschews the idea of traditional conformity, which should evoke sympathy among Objectivists. But what does the film endorse instead? Hedonistic whim worship in the name of self-actualization. That message should generate a warm response from Existentialists or other moral subjectivists (and it did), but it should be unsettling to Objectivists.
Also, I don't understand the purpose of referencing this screenplay now. Did it take you that long to see it?
Art is a mirror. Someone of good self esteem and rational sense of life can find a positive reflection in a work of art that is objectively deplorable. I rented American Beauty about a year ago -- yes, it took this long to get around to it -- and I did not finish watching it. The movie was deplorable. I have to admit, though, that I found the writing and directing compelling.
If you have never been on stage, it is easy to misunderstand acting. Liberals like Martin Sheen stand out in Hollywood specifically because he has ideas of his own in his head -- though there is the scene in Team America where he says, "Let's read newspapers and go on talk shows and repeat what we've read as if they are our own ideas." Actors only know what other people tell them. The author writes the play. The director tells them how to realize the lines. Whether an actor is "brilliant" depends on a track record. Dustin Hoffman and Kathleen Turner are truly talented and versatile. However, Hollywood has long thrived on "type" actors where they find someone who is this way (at least on screen) and they get roles like that. So, that generally precludes an actor who can do a range of roles.
Theater is more demanding. While the maturation of the medium lets typecasting work well, still, you have actors like Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews who grew up on the live stage before going to film. Glenn Close is the kind of film actress who shows a "theatrical" presence.
One of the aspects of Star Trek: Next Generation that came out was the "acting within acting" that they were allowed. Patrick Stewart went through a wide range of emotions that gave depth to his character. Gates McFadden was another. On the other hand, I saw Brent Spiner play a mafia lawyer in a movie, and damn if it wasn't the android Commander Data in a suit.
Anyway, American Beauty is my kind of fantasy, for sure: the old guy gets a cheerleader -- yowza! -- but where is she in that? I mean, do we see the girl with serious depth who cannot be satisfied by a boy her own own age -- or even 10 years older... or 20... but who finds fulfillment and reflection in the (much) older man whose depth of character meets her needs? No. ... hmmm... sorry I asked...
Luke Setzer asked me for a review in another thread, so I wrote one.
I do not think this movie endorses "hedonistic whim worship." It shows that this can be as bad as just following the crowd. But it does endorse that over just being a machine, which is what many characters are in the beginning of this movie.
I was surprised to see negative comments about the actors themselves. Watch Mena Suvari in American Pie and in American Beauty. It's definitely a contrast. Watch Spacey as Lester and as Lex Luthor.
I have taken quite a few acting classes myself. My coach knows the Coen Brothers quite well. A good director can make a big difference, but everyone really did a good job in this film. I know talented, dedicated people who are still waiting tables part-time.
I knew I would hear some self-righteous about the "old man" and the cheerleader. Who can blame him? After all, he was married to an absolutely awful woman who didn't seem to want love. She was the only character in the movie that I truly hated. I was rooting for him to get Angela all the way.
And what's not to like about Ricky Fitts? Here was a guy who could take simple pleasure from just watching a bag fly in the air. In spite of all the ugliness that surrounded him, he was able to see the beauty in even the simplest things.
I think reviews of old movies are a good idea. Personally, I like to go through the archive when I'm thinking of seeing a movie but don't have any ideas. I can read the initial review, and the agreements/disagreements (and even sometimes "if you liked this, then..." suggestions). I'm not a person who always sees the movies "everybody's seen", so I benefit from reviews like this (though I have seen American Beauty).
I'm extremely surprised no one has posted Shawshank Redemption.
People don't often review old movies here, but lists of all-time favorites often come up in Objectivist forums, and Shawshank Redemption often shows. For the record, my own are Queen Christina, Ninotchka, Trouble in Paradise and Shanghai Express, all from before I was born.
I don't think the movie tries to hold up anyone as a moral ideal or a hero. Does every movie you see or story you read need to have some type of moral hero who is perfect and beyond reproach? Perfection does not exist.
Does every movie you see or story you read need to have some type of moral hero who is perfect and beyond reproach?
No, but it at least needs to establish a worthy ideal toward which the hero struggles even if he falls short. Even films like South Park and Napoleon Dynamite do this. By contrast, American Beauty dispenses with worthy ideals altogether.
I found much to enjoy, and eventually also much to despise, in the HBO series "Six Feet Under" by the same creator as that of this film. The second season of the HBO show was absolutely incredible, but the later seasons disintegrated horribly.
My non-objectivist boyfriend saw the movie "American Beauty" and when I asked him, he said it was a "stylistically wonderful glorification of decadence" which he could not recommend to anyone, even though it had its wonderful moments. He essentially agreed with almost all of what Chris Baker has said, which should probably scare me or Chris or my boyfriend or some combination thereof. My boyfriend has read both AS & RoMa, so I trust his aesthetic recommendations implicitly.
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