American Beauty (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

About damned time they got this out on DVD. I won't summarize or review the movie. You all know about it, I suppose. Most people, including me, like it, although Tuna didn't, so I'll let him sing that chorus. Let me see if I can add some new thoughts.

I think I mentioned the other day that The War Zone was arguably the most impressive directorial debut of all time (Tim Roth). Well, here's another candidate. Of course, this is a slightly different circumstance. Tim Roth never directed anything before, that I know of, and Sam Mendes was already considered one of the greatest directors of the 20th century before he ever made a film. He directed the famous Nicole Kidman performance in The Blue Room, and the highly-acclaimed Broadway revival of Cabaret. Rumor has it that he'll direct Kidman and Cruise in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in London soon, but I don't think that's all been nailed down yet.

The point is, though, that Sam Mendes never directed a movie before this one, and was paid only $150,000 for all the time he spent on this movie. Now he gets to direct the next Tom Hanks film. I think he's moved up a bit. His salary on the next film should be about the same as the GNP of Bolivia.

One thought. The movie is great on its own, but I wonder what it would be like without Spacey. His narration and his facial expressions lend the special tone of peaceful resignation and acceptance to the entire piece, even more so than the music or cinematography. It might still be great, but it would be a different film with any other actor.

I was surprised to see that people's appreciation of this movie is inversely correlated to age.

IMDb voters average score:

Age Under 18 9.4
Age 18-29 9.0
Age 30-44 8.6
Age 45 and older 8.3

I can't think of another example of a movie that is simultaneously so successful as a thoughtful drama and as a comedy. I don't always like these abrupt tone switches, but I sure like the way it works in this movie.

In a middle aged man's love for an underaged girl, there is no more distinguished precedent than the novel "Lolita", in which Humbert Humbert rhapsodizes over a young teen. The Mena Suvari Lolita-like character in American Beauty is named Hayes. The original Lolita in Nabokov's novel is Delores Haze. Somebody at IMDb pointed out that Spacey's character, Lester Burnham, is an anagram of "Humbert learns".

By the way, I'll be damned if I can figure out why the Thora Birch character is considering breast augmentation surgery. I'd say she already has a pretty good sweater full.

Thora Birch is seen topless in a window, through a video camera. Mena Suvari is seen topless in an aborted sex scene with Kevin Spacey. Spacey and Wes Bentley do rear nude scenes.

Box Office: Turned out to be a mega hit, based on the results of the re-release after the Oscars. As of February 13th, it was playing in 7 theaters and doing virtually no business, maxed out at $74 million. But then the Oscars spurred a re-release that peaked at about 2000 screens, and the final box office tally crept up to $130 million. It actually was one of the bigger hits of two different years. It took in seventy million in 1999 and sixty million in 2000.

General consensus: what can you say? Chosen best picture, #5 of all time from IMDb, 93% positive reviews, rated 94 by Apollo. (Unusually, Apollo users provided the one negative note in an outpouring of otherwise glowing reviews, averaging only 70 for 1100 reviews.)

IMDB summary: 8.8 out of 10. .

Rotten Tomatoes summary. 93% from all critics, 88% fom the elite cadre.

DVD info from Amazon. The biggest news is what isn't on the DVD. If you didn't already know it, there was an earlier version of the movie that kept going after the current version ends. We hoped to see the original ending on the DVD, but it isn't on there. (Somebody told me that they read this was because the filmmakers wanted to preserve the integrity of the film. As the Deltas would say, "bullshit, bullshit, blowjob, blowjob ... ")

There is a lot that is there, including the following:

  • Good 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer.
  • Behind the scenes featurette
  • Full length commentary
  • Storyboard-to-film commentary. I really enjoyed this.
  • Digital screenplay (DVD only)
  • The usual bios, trailers, and production notes.

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