I mentioned this before when I reviewed “The Usual Suspects:” Kevin Spacey is awesome. I don’t know what it is about his movies and “House of Cards” but he is consistently one of the most engaging actors. It seems like any role where someone seems normal upfront but completely dark underneath is just picture perfect for Spacey. So what better example of why he is one of the best actors of our time than “American Beauty.”
The film focuses on a suburban family where the parents are surviving a lifeless marriage and the teenage daughter deals with common adolescent insecurities. But while this all seems normal at first, it begins to turn dark when the father Lester becomes infatuated with his daughter Jane’s best friend Angela. To add to the creepiness everyone else totally notices including Angela who essentially enjoys the attention. However if you think these are the only creepy things about this movie, you’re sorely mistaken.
Instead the new neighbors have a demented mom, militaristic father as well as a pretty strange son named Ricky who videotapes basically everything including Jane. Early on you see him creepily recording the community but as the film continues, we start to understand why he does all of this: beauty. In fact the whole point behind the film is finding out what true beauty is. It’s not about typical attractiveness but instead something as unique as a bag floating in the wind.
But in order to truly understand this theme, you need to see the complete destruction of multiple suburban families. When you watch this event, you think the movie is more about the classic façade of a nuclear family but you’d be wrong. Sure we see Lester going through a mid-life crisis which includes quitting his job while his wife Carolyn cheats on him as a stress reliever but it’s all about finding what we’re looking for. Lester figures it out and by the end of the film finally feels great.
Now while this movie can get quite dark, it does an excellent job of being comedic to help keep it moving. I mean if the whole thing were about creepy suburbanites going insane, it wouldn’t be entertaining. Instead there are plenty of points where I laughed at what was going on and then just a few minutes later was transfixed by the eerie events happening on this residential block. You need that dichotomy and contrast to help make this an Oscar-winning craft.
Look I knew going in that Kevin Spacey would probably be at his best (he did win an Academy Award) but I didn’t think I’d see the full range of his acting abilities. He can be nerdy and weird yet determined and aggressive all before he becomes truly calm. It’s like Frank Underwood meets Keyser Söze…on drugs. And while the rest of the cast is strong as well, nothing beats Spacey in this greatly shot film. If you want something that can be both creepy and profound, look no further than “American Beauty.”