This one is a satire. Like all satires, it's a little exaggerated but, between those overwhelming exaggerations there lies a slice of truth for the discerning watcher to pick up.
What we have here is a typical American household in Anycity, consisting of an angst-ridden teen played by Thora Birch (Jane Burnham) and a middle aged couple played by Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening (Lester and Caroline Burnham). The story centers on their interaction with their neighbours,mainly a U.S. Marine corps and his son Ricky Fitz.
Although this flick may seem queer, strange or even irrelevant when seen while resting on a couch cushioned with fluffy pillows of Indian Culture, in reality, it's almost a true reflection of a fraction of the life of every American citizen, and this reality is sad.
Infidelity, misunderstandings between couples, between parent and child; excessive, corrosive materialism; the tiring endless drive to perform and "succeed"; the lack of strength to carry on a decent relationship after a day of hard work, the American fetish for suing - all these factors are the hallmarks of characteristic American life, all of which are well-portrayed in this film.
Surprisingly, the only character who attempts to rectify himself, the only one who opts for a job "with the least responsibility" and has the courage to get out of the rat race is also the only one who pays the price for his choice. Therefore, the message one gets is that the people who support this ugly system of having to prove oneself over and over again in the workplace and at home, those who put their lives up as an "advertisement for being normal" and depend on crummy self-help tapes to empower them to take stands and decisions in their lives, are the ones who actually constitute the fabric of this paper-thin society. They like it as it is, and will kill if necessary to keep their fraternity alive.
Another noteworthy factor is the one-lined cynicisms that come out pat from the mouths of babes who, paradoxically; have experienced little or no hardship in their lives. They have no empathy with the struggles of their parents, no softness or innocence.
Thus, the title "American Beauty" is turned ironical, for the progression of incidents in the movie is a testimony to anything but "beauty" in American life.
The music in this movie is just excellent. It swims and swirls and creates the atmosphere really well; perhaps, constituting the only "beauty" in the film!
This viewer thinks that the movie would definitely be an eye opener for those enamoured with everything American.This article was first published on 01 May 2000.