Movie Review: American Beauty

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: Alan Ball

I went into this one with mixed expectations.  The one detailed review I had heard was that it was terrible.  But said review was also from someone who watched Survivor religiously, so I didn’t think I could exactly trust her taste.  So I tried to be open minded.

Things I really liked: The contrast between the hand held shots of Jane at the very beginning and the pretty overhead shot of the town right after the opening titles was striking.  A little obvious, but it still worked.  It’s interesting that Lester censors his own fantasies.  But I kind of like it.  Again, it’s a little overly obvious, but I did think it was nice how Ricky’s voyeurism mimics our own as viewers.  The lighting and the camera work in the scene where Carolyn and Jane talk in her bedroom work to create a really intimate feeling.  I really love Allison Janney and so I kind of want to complain that there wasn’t more of her, but then I feel like I should point out how awesome she is.  Because as much talent as it takes to steal a scene (like she’s totally capable of doing) it may very well take more to just allow yourself to be a minor part in a film like this.  Oh yeah, and Kevin Spacey is awesome.

Things I didn’t really like:  In one scene we learn Carolyn is wearing a crimson slip under a cream colored dress—I don’t for one minute believe she doesn’t color coordinate her undergarments better than that.  I’m guessing they did it so we’d really notice the contrast, but it could have been accomplished more realistically.  I have trouble buying Jane as a cheerleader/dance team member.  It helped a little that she looked awkward and uncomfortable up there, but in a way that made it worse.  The only way I could believe it would be if it was a case of she really loved to dance, but it’s clear that’s not why she’s there.  Jane complaining about her dad to Ricky after what she sees of his father makes her seem extremely self-centered.

All the people who refer to this movie as a cinematic masterpiece is not allowed to make fun of soap operas ever again.  This movie used so many soap opera clichés it’s not even funny.  At least soaps own their cheese.  Starting from the misdirect at the beginning with Jane asking Ricky to kill her father to the OMG, there are so many people who have a reason to kill him!  Who will actually do it?  And then the whole sequence through which Ricky’s dad thinks he’s having a thing with Lester… it was right out of Austin Powers.  Except, again, Austin Power owns that shit.  This movie tried to spin it as some sort of deep look at the way coincidences can have major consequences… I rolled my eyes a bit.  I hope I was not supposed to be surprised to find out Angela was a virgin.

Other observations: The scene in which Lester fantasizes about Angela while watching the dance performance kind of tainted all my memories of my own dance performances.  But at least that gave the film extra relevance.

Overall:  I liked it.  I’m glad I watched it.  Yeah… I think some of the love showered on it by the critics when it came out was hyperbolic.  But it was still good.  I’ll go ahead and give it four out of five jars of peanut butter, but I’m going to eat a big spoonful out of one of the jars first.

In Praise of Supporting Characters

I think it goes all the way back to my childhood.  I have vague recollections of reading children’s books where I was kind of annoyed by the main character, but loved the minor characters enough to keep reading.  I can’t list specifics, but I know it happened.  For whatever reason, I’ve always loved those characters who don’t overstay their welcome.  Who rarely get to be the center of attention.  The supporting cast.

Take Bones, for example.  Cammy’s a nice, standard issue Bones/Booth shipper.  Now I’m not saying I don’t love me some B&B UST (unresolved sexual tension for you non-fangirls out there) but my real concern on that show is that Hodgins and Angela get together and ten thousand weird but adorable multiracial children.  And while we’re at it, I’d rather have Hodgins make me an orgasmic grilled cheese than have Booth rescue me from near certain death.  Or grill for me.

But at least with Bones I like the main characters.  There are a whole group of shows I watch exclusively for their supporting cast.  The short lived and never better than mediocre series Moonlight was one example.  Alex O’Loughlin is sufficiently dreamy, but Mick was never more than a cliche.  And a bad one at that.  And Beth I wanted to smack in most scenes.  But Josef?  I would have kept watching if the show had centered on his character (yes, it’s in part my love for Jason Dohring, but it was also about the character.)  Even that cyber punkish chick who showed up in one episode who’s job it was to clean up after vampires.  I would have watched a show about her.  Hell, I would have watched a show about the Latino vampire morgue attendant.  Great supporting characters, even though the show as a whole was justly canceled.

Right now my supporting character show is Human Target.  Christopher Chance is okay, but sometimes I want to smack him in the mouth.  But I keep watching the show, because I love Winston and Guerrero.  Chi McBride is one of those actors who apparently shines as a supporting character as he was one of my favorite parts of Pushing Daisies too.  Allison Janney is another.  Have you seen Drop Dead Gorgeous or Juno?  She practically steals both of those.

I don’t know if this comes through to other people, or if I just have a personal proclivity towards supporting characters.  But it’s amazing how much they can improve a narrative, whether it was good to start with or not. What do you think internets?  Who are your favorite supporting characters?