American Beauty - rated - HOT! HOT! HOT!

Witty Insights or Kiddie Porn?

Like Three Kings, this is a dark comedy which focuses on what's wrong with American culture today, but this time it focuses on domestic issues, and this time it is an outsider's view. The director, Sam Mendes, is an English theatre director. But he's a comercial success in the theatre, and he knows how to make a hip movie.

There's a lot to admire in this film, like the luscious look of the film, the rich soundtrack, the brilliant casting (Kevin Spacey with his intelligence, sense of humour and rich voice was a no-brainer for therole of Lester Burnham, the narrator. But casting Annette Bening as his wife, Carolyn, was amaster-stroke. This is a role suited to the likes of Judy Davis - known for her brittle aggressiveness in Woody Allen films. But Bening's just perfect as the ambitious and highly strung realtor and rose enthusiast! Thora Birch, Wes Bentley and Chris Cooper round out a wonderful supporting cast.

When we meet Lester, he tells us, he's already dead, and so the scene is set for his demise. When you think of it, this is a stroke of brilliance by the writer, Alan Ball, and the director. It gives us a Brechtian perspective on the plot development, which makes it easier to accept the somewhat sombre ending, and also prepares us for a downhill slide. So we can concentrate on the more subtle changes which happen to Lester.

Having said all that, however, this film disturbed me. After all, Lester becomes obsessed with his teenage daughter's school-friend Angela (Mena Hayes). At around 16, she's not much older than the Lolita of Adrian Lynes remake (Lolita, 1997). Are the writer and director tellig us that showing self-restraint around such a nymph (not to say nymphet) would be a kind of nobility? If so, their standards are a lot lower than mine!

And when Lester rejects the values of his current, money-centred life, what values does he embrace? the self-centred consumer-driven values of his youth. Is that progress? Sure, I know he's searching for beauty, but he's still looking in all the young places. At the end of the film his relatiuonships with his family are still in tatters. he may have a "job" that makes him "happy," but has he found fulfillment in all his self- indulgence? Has he changed? I'm not so sure.

I'm being hard on the film precisely because it is another good, intelligent film. But in the end, for the Asprey Oscars for the films of 1999, the winner is...Three Kings.