American Beauty : A victim of its own success

A victim of its own success

I just saw it a few days ago (and I'm way late to the party). Everyone I talk to about it says "Oh, yeah, I saw that 10 years ago" in a condescending way, like a pair of shoes that are no longer trendy.

When the film came out, it garnered crazy hype and was seen as one of the best films of all time. Just years later, publications were calling it overrated and even the director Sam Mendes himself agreed.

Another reason for its decline in popularity is that the issues it takes on are a bit dated. Back then, homosexuality and marijuana were taboo and now both of those things are commonly accepted.

Times were much simpler in 90's America: a.k.a. just the usual. "Less materialism; more love" was the answer to most problems then so American Beauty resonated. Now, there's the economy, debt, war, ISIS and so on.

Re: A victim of its own success

"Less materialism, more love" it is still the answer. It has been since the time of Christ.

Re: A victim of its own success

Absolutely, I agree. But the circumstances have changed a lot in the past 15 years.

It's a recession ; many people have already cut back and don't need to hear the lecture that they're living too large. Back then people had irrational fear of gays and weed. Now, we have actual problems in our society to worry about.

Re: A victim of its own success

Life wasn't perfect in the 90s you know. Every decade has its own issues. And great movies like this one have timeless messages.

It wasn't just that homosexuality was considered taboo back then, and that the Colonel was gay and felt so ashamed to the point that he would commit murder to hide it, but that he came from a strict military background that was so against his personal beliefs and which was why he always tried to control his son and enforce harsh discipline. He felt that by presenting a tough exterior no one would question his character or authority. Why did he attack Ricky after seeing him exchange cash with Lester? It was jealousy. He was jealous that his son (in the Colonel's mind) was sexually experimenting. And in that moment that he kissed Lester, he was totally vulnerable. It was the only time we really see him open up and express his true emotions. It was why his wife was cold and disconnected from reality.

It wasn't just that weed was illegal back then, but that Ricky was selling weed as a source of alternate income, while pretending to his father that he had the job at the hotel as a waiter/bartender. This represented a generational shift in the attitude of what it meant to have a job: the idea of exploiting new areas of growth and catering to where the demand was instead of being stuck in a dead-end occupation. And Lester wasn't just smoking weed or working out to impress Angela, but to prove to himself that he had it in him to break free of the stereotypes of what he was expected to do. His attraction to her only fueled his inner desire to change his philosophy on life and be braver and bolder.

It isn't just about being successful financially or living in times of economic prosperity, but valuing material things and status over interpersonal relationships. In fact that's more relevant now than ever, with smartphones and social media paradoxically making lots of people feel increasingly more alienated from other human beings, even their close friends and family. The ubiquity of the internet gives us a sense of information overload, on the one hand we are more knowledgeable and informed than ever before but on the other hand we often have difficulty making sense of it all. And in the overall scheme of things, people feel more replaceable and the value of human life seems to dwindle. At the end of the day, all we really have is our relationships with others, the memories we have created, and the lives we have touched in our path.

Sure times have changed. But to say that this movie is outdated shows that you don't really understand what it's trying to say.

Re: A victim of its own success

I really enjoyed your post overall, thank you for typing that out.

Re: A victim of its own success

Great review. Helps me understand the movie, thanks.

Re: A victim of its own success

But the circumstances have changed a lot in the past 15 years.

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You miss the point

The movie is comparing pre 1970 to post 1970 ie the 30 years to THEN.

nuthin has happened since then, Rumsfeld assured americans of that with 9/11.

now it is just Night's Village that remains.

http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

Re: A victim of its own success

Circumstances have changed, for MOST people. I still live exactly the same way when I was in my 20s (lmao). NATO has illegally bombed and destroyed Yugoslavia, primarily Serbia (against all international treaties EVER signed), where I had grown up in Belgrade. People are dying of leukemia and cancer on a massive scale (from how much missiles with depleted Uranium were dropped on us), my uncle passed from cancer a couple of years ago...

(Hospital where he was is full (like, packed full) of young people, it's a sad situation, never mind all that; God will set them things straight)

The country is enslaved in debt, ruled by traitors, threatened by multiple wars in the destabilized Balkan region, unless they dance to the song of the "borrowers", AKA the World Bank and all that other scum trying to run the Earth.

There's lots, lots, more, but there's the one life to live and I will adapt and overcome, just like the elite *beep* special forces to whatever comes my way. I will win, against all forces of evil trying to *beep* with my life and my existence and crush my enemies... Well, ok, I'll leave that part to police. :)

Great film, btw.

Re: A victim of its own success

It might be the answer bhoover but if not enough people outside of churches are simultaneously saying AND demonstrating it, it's the equivalent of a group of patronizing parents going 'Oh yes, little Johnny. 1 plus 1 DOES equal 2. Aren't you clever?'

Re: A victim of its own success


Times were much simpler in 90's America


That isn't true. The 90's had a very bad recession and a war. The film isn't about those broader issues though. It focuses on materialism and obsession with the 'self'. 'The American Dream'. Those issues are even more relevant today.

With regards to the drug use and homosexuality. I'll agree both those things are more accepted now, but things haven't changed that much. The use of weed amongst teenagers has been pretty ubiquitous since the 60's.

It's a great film. I think a lot of it's greatness was down to chance and luck. The original ending (Jane & Ricky being convicted of Lesters murder) was terrible. In the end the film took a less is more approach which left the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Re: A victim of its own success


Another reason for its decline in popularity is that the issues it takes on are a bit dated. Back then, homosexuality and marijuana were taboo and now both of those things are commonly accepted.

Times were much simpler in 90's America: a.k.a. just the usual. "Less materialism; more love" was the answer to most problems then so American Beauty resonated. Now, there's the economy, debt, war, ISIS and so on.


This particular observation could well have been written in the 1990's about the 1970's. The taboos cited above were much less of taboos in the 90's than in the 70's. And it seems every generation has a sense that things were simpler "back then." Times often look more simple in hindsight.

Re: A victim of its own success

I don't think the film's subsequent decline in cinema history is a result of it being dated.

As others have pointed out on this thread, the film is more universal than some of its content. Come on. It's about a man realizing the most important things in his life—which although not groundbreaking, is timeless nonetheless. Also, it's not like the film is a concise commentary on weed or homosexuality. Yes, I see your point on that. We have come a long way, but it can still be argued that those two issues still bear lots of opposition. Closeted gay people still exist today, unbelievably but yes.

I would have to say the film simply didn't age well because some art just doesn't. It's a fine film, but not as well-written as we thought. I re-watched it a year ago and was struck at how it simply felt like a well-made TV drama almost. I think it's more stylistic than content.

Re: A victim of its own success

Closeted gay people still exist today

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One thing the movie brings out is that small f feminism KILLED the good old "doin what comes naturally" as shown by Angela in school scene with boys keeping totally clear and girls taking over.

So a large lump of those boys that used to GET sex make the EXCUSE that they are queers and govt has made that path totally respectable - even pronking the "gay" word.

But because having sex with another boy is so so repulsive to them they go for the "poor little gay me" gig - and govt loves it.

http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

Re: A victim of its own success

I don't think it's all that dated. The repressed homosexual plot was stupid back then frankly. And marijuana was taboo in 1999? Not the 1999 I remember. But people still have mid-life crises. I'm sure many middle-age fathers still fantasize about sleeping with their teenage daughters' sexy friends. There is more financial insecurity these days, but the point of this movie is more about lost youth than some socialist statement on materialism. And times aren't ever "simple". That's an illusion.

I don't think people appreciate how "dated" the present day is. Things were very different fifteen years ago, but don't expect them to stay like they are now. I'm old enough to know better than that. . .

"Let be be finale of seem/ The only emperor is the Emperor of Ice Cream"

Re: A victim of its own success

more about lost youth

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It was Lester's story and from his corner it was NOT about lost youth at all.

Angela [compared to Lolita in 1950's] had lost her youth [ie Wild Oats] but Lester GOT his and moved on.

His bitch was he had to take on the FULL responsibility for the household but only got abuse back.

He resolved to "go single" again BUT was only content if wife and brat were content and at end he repeats "man oh man" while looking at his "achievements" in photo, knowing they WERE HAPPY.

I just wonder how much some people actually WATCH of a movie, or maybe as Lester says "you didn't understand a word I said".

http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

Re: A victim of its own success

And times aren't ever "simple". That's an illusion.

Good point. I hate it when people trivialize and condescend the past like this. People certainly aren't more complex these days, that's for sure. We have more choices and the world seems to get worse and worse, that's all.

Re: A victim of its own success

yes, the central theme is EVE SYNDROME and that has always existed and history [and film] is littered with instances.

Jean Brodie in 1920s almost made it stick but Sandy STOPPED her - only Germaine Greer in 1970 got it "right" via her books so this movie is about the "before and after" of one MS B, who as Dylan says in the end "brakes just like a little girl"

For convenience the 29 years between 1970 and 1999 is contracted to 19, so Caroline at the PIVOTAL age of 37 in 1999 was 17 in 1969 BG [before Greer] so was a real rager like Lolita, but as the tide shifted to women in charge of the store she too went feral.

Lester was the bunny

http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

Re: A victim of its own success

Not true - things aren't that much different now than they were then. And the film doesn't feel dated at all, except for some of the tech gadgets which will always be the case.

Not sure even about the decline in its popularity as you claim. I've heard nothing but good about this movie and I liked it even better the 2nd time around (today).

Re: A victim of its own success

I agree and disagree. It's still a great film that resonates but it's definitely a product of the culture of the 1990s. There's no way this film could have or would have been the same if filmed even 5 years later. Video cameras were all the rage and so many 90s films have characters filming and talking to the video camera. The Baby Boomer angst of middle-aged white suburban dads like Lester was also a theme prevalent in many 90s shows and films. And there's definitely some 90s self indulgence with the memorable plastic bag scene which was viewed as a great scene at the time but even a few years later seemed laughable and ostentatiously pretentious.

And whoever said the 90s were a simpler time -- this film was actually a dark comedy about how the sheen of happiness in the 90s and the American Dream was a disappointing myth even for people who had it very good socio-economically.

Re: A victim of its own success

this film was actually a dark comedy about how the sheen of happiness in the 90s and the American Dream was a disappointing myth

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Well I am retired so don't "live on the economy" but remember the HUGE changes of 1970 on which this movie is based.

So has anything happened in American Beauty since 1999 - from where I sit, since 9/11 American have obediently settled [cowered?] into Night's Village.

http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

Re: A victim of its own success

So gays and women ruined U.S (and further more the world?) more than neo-conservative, war mongering criminal Presidents and Generals? How exactly has feminism contributed the ruining of the economy and society? Do you think Mrs. B's failure with the housing market might have something to do with the fact that it completely collapsed less than ten years later? Was that feminism? Or did the gays do that?





Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride

Re: A victim of its own success

True, the story is pretty good, and it's a well made film. It's just all the Oscar campaigning and over exposure that kills the enthusiasm for it.

~ I'm a 21st century man and I don't wanna be here.

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Re: A victim of its own success

I doubt that Mendes has ever said American Beauty is overrated.

Re: A victim of its own success

Times were not simpler in the 90s, maybe they were to teenagers and children who didn't have to work in the real world but for you to say that things like marijuana and homosexuality were taboo says more about your ignorance of the recent past than about your knowledge about the difference between 1999 and 2016.

Re: A victim of its own success

I saw this movie when it came out and I thought it was ridiculous then, and wildly overrated. IMO it's a bit like Paul Haggis' Crash: both films think they're saying something powerful and profound, when they're actually saying nothing at all.

Re: A victim of its own success

I've never understood why universal acclaim makes someone not want to watch a movie. If anything, it should make people want to watch it even more (duh!) just to shut everyone up. For example, Breaking Bad. I was reading a thread the other day and saw that Jo Blo wouldn't watch it bc they were told to watch too often. I mean, it's right in front of you: give it a try!!! It won't hurt you!! This movie is barely outdated (technonlogy, I guess), is still relevant (overall theme and message), and should be enjoyed by all ages for now and years to come. It won five Oscars, as you may know, and some people are turmed off by that. God knows why.

Re: A victim of its own success

I've never heard of people being turned off by universal acclaim. People can be annoyed with tacky movie ads that paint the screen with Film Festival Awards and mentions, but I don't think this stops them from watching it for themselves.

Looking back at this movie after seeing again after many years, I can see how people can reflect on how maudlin and melodramatic this movie really was. I was engaged in the movie upon my first viewing, but as life has marched on, many of the issues Lester deals with in this film were similar to my own life experiences, BUT instead of me relating to the character again after another viewing I find Lester to be a simpleton and a bit of a flake. Annette Bening's character is also more of a caricature than I remembered her and his daughter's angst was actually very cliched and predictable, even for 1999's standards.

It's also very telling when the parody producers of Scary Movie fame can inject dozens of references from this movie and have a field day mocking it in "Not Another Teen Movie". Ricky's "The Beautiful Weirdo" took the cake!

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