American Beauty
Boys Don't Cry
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Lester Burnham: Kevin Spacey
Carolyn Burnham: Annette: Bening
Jane Burnham: Thora Birch
Ricky Fitts: Wes Bentley
Angela Hayes: Mena Suvari
Colonel Fitts: Chris Cooper
Directed by Sam Mendes


For anyone who does not want to entertain the thought of standing through an entire movie, to arrive half an hour earlier before the curtain rises for National Gallery of Art’s weekly free movie show is absolutely necessary and sometimes surprisingly rewarding as well. Not only can you pick a seat comfy but also steal a few minutes, say to meditate, to voyeur, to eavesdrop, or just to read. Occasionally your concentration on Michel Foucault or Jurgen Habermas is penetrated by the muffled conversation floating around you. And you hear two old friends, both of whom I would guess, are already in their late 70s or early 80s, shooting breeze about some of their mutual acquaintances. And suddenly the name Doris comes up. "Is Doris still alive?" "I don’t know. We used to be very close, but I haven’t contacted her for quite a long time. I feel really sorry to say I don’t even know whether she is still alive or not". He spits out the word "sorry" in such an emphatic way that you can’t help being magnetized… "I should say I feel embarrassed about myself. I feel ashamed of myself." And he is emphasizing and reemphasizing. And his eyes seem to be staring through his friend and into some unknown infinity. Watching and hearing them talking, I (you) am trembling with a spasm of indecipherable but melancholic bliss. And tears start swelling in my eyes. And life suddenly becomes so beautiful so so unspeakably but enchantingly beautiful.

"American Beauty" is one of those rare Hollywood productions that deal with the beauty of life on a subconscious and metaphysical level. The first couple of shots, together with Kevin Spacey’s flat and monotonous tone, succinctly prepares us for a "Happiness" type of dark controversy: a middle class family teemed with strained and awkward relationships, camouflaged under the roof of seemingly materialistic harmony ---- a big house and a trendy SUV. So we meet Dad, Lester, whose sex life is only consummated in his solo morning shower with masturbation induced orgasms. And we meet Mom, Carolyn, who is so snobbishly concerned with her image that, she has to match the color of her "business attire" with the color of their plants while gardening. And there is Jane, their teenage daughter, whose only raison d’être seems to be her planned breast implant, although for very obvious reasons she does not need. Very quickly Lester meets Angela, Jane’s schoolmate and a Nabokovian nymph, who throws Lester completely into disarray. And Jane meets Ricky, her new neighbor’s son, whose only passion seems to be following whatever is around him with his omnipresent camcorder. And the story starts unraveling.

"American Beauty" certainly deserves multiple renditions, which by itself merits kudos from serious moviegoers. What gets me is its subliminal brightness, optimism, and exhilaration steeped in its superficial "darkness" and "perversity". It captures the essence of our daily beings. Despite the dismal route life may be destined to take, beauty with her melting tenderness, erotic ecstasy, and moving calmness is filling every corner of our existence to its brim. It by no means has to be something grand or splendid that would dazzle our eyes. It could be an empty grocery bag dancing with the lyrics of wind on a dirty but derelict sidewalk, the most beautiful thing Ricky ever caught on his camera, or an emphatic "sorry" and the following emotion laden stare whiffing onto your face, or a caressing smile radiating from a total stranger you come across on the street… And you realize that beauty of life is so perennial and so pandemic that nothing in this world no matter how ugly, how revolting, how unfair has the power to piss you off. So if there is anyone ever asking you what you like most about your life, you can respond with your deepest appreciation but not an iota of hesitation, "EVERYTHING".

"American Beauty" won People's Award in this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
(C) Copyright 1999 The Voices of Chinese. All rights reserved.




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American Beauty