Favorite Film Friday: American Beauty

I’m modifying an idea I saw on a book blog recently — revisiting favorites from your past. While that concept was favorite books, mine is going to be favorite movies. These aren’t going to be reviews of the films, just a link or two to assembled opinion on the films and my thoughts about the movie and why it’s among my favorites. I’m hoping to do this on Fridays when I’m not posting a Friday Follies.

AMERICAN20BEAUTYTo begin with, I’m going to use my ratings of films at IMDB. Since that list is based first on ranking and second by alphabet, I’m going to start with American Beauty, one of those films I enjoyed so much I remember a couple older women sitting in front of us at the theater turning around with a “WTF?” glare on their face as I laughed uproariously.

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics give American Beauty 89 percent on its “Tomatometer,” while other critics give it a 91 percent. As a result, it’s not surprising that it gets this consensus: “Critics praise American Beauty for its wit and insight, as well as for its exceptional performances.”

Similarly, the movie scores an 86 (“Universal acclaim“) at Metacritic, with reviewers from Roger Ebert to Rolling Stone scoring it at 100. It’s a 10 out of 10 in my personal ranking at IMDB.

Aside from the fact the humor of the main character, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), is very akin to mine, the timing of American Beauty was significant. I was the same age as Lester when the film was released in 1999. Not surprisingly then, its story of the father of a high school girl dealing with a midlife crisis and depression — okay, so the humor is a bit dark — was something I and my contemporaries could easily grasp and identify with. Granted, the infatuation Lester develops for a friend of his daughter’s is more than a bit unsettling but Lester’s overall attitude and actions made him a “rebel with a cause” in my book

Lester also has some of my favorite movie lines ever. But there’s one that always sticks with me and which I think really gets to the heart of the movie and how we approach middle age. Lester’s wife is concerned he is going to spill beer on the couch. She warns him that it is, after all, a $4,000 couch. Lester’s screamed response: “It’s just a couch!” To her shock, he continues, “This isn’t life. This is just stuff, and it has become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.”

To me, that represents that Lester has become a bodhisattva. He is enlightened enough to see through the materialism of our lives. We all want stuff, often stuff we can’t afford. Yet it does boil down to “want,” something we seem to have confused with “need.” That confusion simply masks what it is — “just stuff.” It isn’t life and it certainly doesn’t represent meaningfulness or fulfillment.

Whenever I feel my perspective on life may be getting a bit out of whack, I try to tell myself, “It’s just a couch!” And that’s one of the reasons why American Beauty is one of my favorite films.

It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), American Beauty

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