Customer Review

33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars misunderstood, October 22, 2002
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This review is from: American Beauty (1999) (DVD)
I'd like to address some of the criticisms made in earlier reviews about this film and offer my interpretation. The main criticism seems to be twofold: firstly, the film uses cliched characters rather than realistic portraits, secondly, the film offers a simplistic message about breaking out of mundane everyday life.
To begin with, yes the film does use cliches. It's deliberate. At no time does American Beauty claim to be a realistic portrayal of suburban life. It uses extremes and saturated emotions, as well as saturated colours in the cinematography, to offer an incisive, sarcastic, and over the top criticism of Western Culture. (Althought the film is set in suburban America I think it could have been set in the affluent suburbs of many Western nations and still have been apt.) The characters are consciously and obviously stereotyped - the middle aged man in the throws of a mid life crisis, the shallow and ambitious real estate agent, the beautiful cheerleader, the latently homosexual marine - but we are encouraged to recognise these as stereotypes and to focus on the way in which these figures struggle with the details, desires, and fears of their world. It is a hypereality that is being presented, and is which is used to mock and criticise the actual.
Some have seen the film as little more than a saccharine message about being true to yourself in the face of mediocrity. I think it is a film about the impossibility of just that. There is no happy ending, no comfortable resolution, Lester ends up dead, and those around him frustrated, imprisoned, and weary. It's a film about the way in which society succeeds in alienating us from ourselves and each other, not about trite attempts to break out. Lester's job quitting and his buffing up don't succeed in bringing him happiness. Nor does Caroline's affair or rifle range education. It is the small, temporal moments that give us pleasure: small, fleeting visions of beauty in a cold and frustrating world. Overall, the film ends on a sour note (gorgeously contradicted by the score) and argues that simply refusing to cooperate doesn't stop the machine from turning.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 26, 2009 9:47:21 AM PDT
You seem to take this weird fiction as a realistic portrayal of reality. Any other mistakes?
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Location: Canberra, Australia

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