When I first saw American Beauty, it was by accident. A friend and myself have decided to see a movie. We were not aware at the time of any good films that were playing, but pending a recommendation we decided to see American Beauty. We walked in, knowing absolutely nothing about the movie. When we walked out, much of the same feeling remained about this Dreamworks gem.
Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) tells us that he is dead in a voice-over at the very beginning of the film. The rest of the film shows the last year of his life. Lester is a man who is trapped in a loveless family and meaningless job. He spends these last moments of it struggling to wake up.
Lester's family consists of Carolyn (Annette Bening), a judgmental, ambitious wife and Jane (Thora Birch), a depressed, insecure and uncommunicative teenage daughter. To them, he appears to be going through a midlife crisis, because of the sudden change in his life patterns (he buys 1970s car, begins lifting weights and smokes pot). But to him - he's trying to save his soul.
Director Sam Mendes who is known for his Broadway productions such as "Cabaret" and "The Blue Room" makes his film debut with American Beauty. We can see a lot of his theatrical experience in this film (such as the fantasy scene with the rose petals), but it works very well with Alan Ball's script.
Kevin Spacey's performance as Lester is as near perfection as it gets and the supporting cast is just as terrific. But there is another co-star that steals the show. Technically we may refer to this "character" as a background player. The bag that so wonderfully shows the beauty of life and the simplest things is a worthy Oscar contender.
In the end, there is a feeling that we had just been taken on a trip through the souls of three characters. Thus, it leaves you as uncertain at the end, as it did in the beginning. There is also a very strong and definitive sense of poignancy. American Beauty has a soul, that's both entertaining and challenging. What more can you ask?