So I was just intending to do a short send-up of this film in response to recent talk on the forums of Juno not deserving its awards and its themes of pedophilia. To Hell with Juno, HERE's a film that's more than annoying, it's vile. And not only did it sweep the awards ceremonies, but it had hundreds of people running around saying it personally touched them in a deeply spiritual way. So I wasn't intending to to a Jabootu-level deconstruction of this film when I started, it's just that every single scene of it has something to hate.
American Beauty is a horrible movie for horrible people.
Ever notice how high-concept movies always come in twos? Two meteors hitting the earth, two regular joe turns vigilante, two 30-something women kvetch over shopping and their sex lives, etc. Like one studio gets a whiff of a movie their competitor is making, then rushes to beat them to the punch with a virtually identical script? Well not to put too fine a point on it, but this movie was released the same month as Fight Club.
So we open with a digital camera recording a girl in her underwear (played by a Barely-Legal Thora Birch) complaining about her pedophile dad. An offscreen voice asks "Do you want me to kill him?" Then she looks at the camera and says, "Yeah, would you?" No doubt a line that sent a chill down the spine of the movie's target audience, freezing their arm in mid-jerk.
Initial hook out of the way, we get a voiceover by said pedophile announcing that he will be dead by the end of the movie. So this is going to be a "Sunset Boulevard" kinda movie, where we see how becoming a pedophile, just like becoming a jigolo, leads to the protagonist's ruination. Oh wait, no, that would be a good movie. This just sets up a lame running whodunnit, where characters at various points in the movie say or do something to imply that they might be the killer, then a bell rings offscreen and the word "Suspect" appears on screen.
We learn that the pedophile's name is... get ready for it... "Lester!" Get it? We're totally self-aware and that excuses us when we start making straight-faced assertions that this pederast is morally superior to everyone else in the 'burbs. Self-aware irony, or guilty conscience?
So Lester hates his job and his life and goes through life like a zombie wishing for death. Then we are told his wife matches her shears to her gardening clogs. This is to let us know she has become a slave the the IKEA nesting instinct, I mean that she's, like, totally materialistic! This isn't ripping off Fight Club. You've gotta feel for Annette Benning's character. She's the designated "bitch" character and can do no right in this movie. I wonder if the screenwriter based her off an ex-wife or something.
A neighbor asks her how she fertilizes her garden and you can feel the camera sneer at her Martha Stewart materialistic suburban ways when she responds "Miracle Grow and Eggshells." Psh! Just because I wrote in a character for the sole purpose of asking you for gardening tips doesn't mean we care about your gardening tips, covetous she-harpy!
He's got some gay neighbors, who dress straight, but fuss over their dog in a sissy manner. They don't have characters or personalities or anything, they're just the gay equivalent of the "magic negro," a moral barometer for the film. The pedophile is a good person because he gets along with them, his new neighbor, Skeletor, is a bad person because he doesn't like them. Okay, he isn't actually Skeletor, but he's played with about the same level of moral ambiguity.
We also see his daughter and learn her secret fear, she doesn't think she has big boobs. We learn this first by seeing her visit a boob-job website on her computer, then sticking out her boobs in profile in front of the mirror. What could possibly resolve this conflict?
Then we see the pedophile at his job where he puts on a fake smile but hates everyone around him. A consultant tells him that they're cutting headcount and he needs to write a self-evaluation. He shoots back about some senior executive that spent $50,000 on a hooker with a company credit card. Yes, but what if by fucking that hooker the executive became enlightened, freed himself from his materialistic ways, and learned to appreciate the beauty inherent in all things? Oh wait, consensual sex with a hooker doesn't do that, only child molesting does. The consultant tries to brush it off, but the pederast repeats, "That's $50,000! That's someone's salary!"
So later that night we have the "cold" dinner scene to establish that their family is dysfunctional. You see, the pedophile has ignored his daughter for years (thank God), and the only reason he pays any attention to her tonight is he wants he to give him sympathy over his job situation. When his "too little too late" attempt to bond crashes and burns, he passive-aggressively tries to pass the blame off on his wife. Outside, some creepy stranger is filming the scene through their window. This peeping tom is Skeletor's son, the moral center of the film and its dispenser of "There is no Spoon" aphorisms.
So the next day the wife attempts to sell a house. Nobody buys the house. She closes the windows and begins to cry. Then suddenly she begins screaming and slapping herself in the face. Woah! Is she insane? On drugs? No, this is just the film's subtle way of showing that her life isn't really as perfect and fulfilling as she pretends it is. It also serves as a helpful device to show that whenever she reacts poorly to the pedophile's antics, no matter how reasonable her objections, ha ha! she's just a crazy broad being hysterical.
The next night the pedophile and his wife are driving to a basketball game where the daughter is going to be cheerleading. The pedophile whines the whole way there that he's missing his favorite TV shows. Meanwhile his evil horrible bitch wife nags that the daughter has been practicing her steps all week and the pedophile responds that the daughter hates him anyway so why bother? Then he adds that the daughter hates his wife, too, because otherwise we might forget that his wife's the horrible person we're supposed to boo and not him. So they sit down to watch the routine, with him fidgeting like a goddamn child, and suddenly he sees the girl among the cheerleaders. We get to see his imagination in motion where this girl does an erotic dance, zips open her top, and rose petals ejaculate out. That's to let you know you're seeing something arty and not borderline child-porn. Immediately after the performance the pedophile uses his daughter to introduce him the girl and he hits on her practically with his tongue hanging out.
That night he lies in bed talking about how he's recovered his zest for life while imagining the girl lying naked in a pile of rose petals, just a few petals covering her privates. Now I know some of you are saying. Come on, Mischief! It's not about pedophilia, it's about a guy in a mid-life crisis! Hitting on girls too young for you is a normal part of the process. The fact that she's underage has nothing to do with it!
If that's the case, then explain to me the casting decision of Mena Suvari for the girl, an actress whose mini-biography in IMDB starts with, "Smart, stylish, and probably older than you think." There are plenty of hot teenage girls who look like women. Mena Suvari, with her childlike face, no hips, and flat chest... screw passing for 16, she could pass for 12! If this movie is not pandering to pedophiles, why did they pick the most child-looking actress they could find in Hollywood?
So the daughter returns home and senses that someone is watching her. She looks at the house next door and the porchlight turns on, revealing Skeletor's son recording her with a video camera in one hand, holding a cheeseburger with another hand, and being sucked off by a crackhead. I kid. He's just wearing a beeper.
The next morning the pedophile rummages through his daughter's address book to call the girl, confirming to us that yes, he is 100% committed to fucking this child. Fortunately he chickens out, maybe realizing that there was just as good a chance the girl's parents would answer the phone and he could go to jail. The girl star 69s and gets his daughter, who is mortified to learn that her father was rummaging through her address book because he is 100% committed to fucking her underage friend.
Then we see breakfast at the Skeletor's. We learn that Skeletor himself is an angry pessimist, that his wife is catatonic and terrified of him, and his son is still recording the pedophile's daughter through her window. Remember that Skeletor's son is the moral center of the film, so in addition to saying pedophilia has wonderful spiritual benefits, the movie also says that stalking is a moral and forthright way to spend your free time. Then in a sitcom-worthy gag, the magical gay couple show up at the door with a fruit basket (har!) and say they're "partners." Skeletor is such a conservative, get this, he thinks they mean business partners! Wasn't this an All in the Family episode? Remember that this movie swept the academy awards. Then we get a scene of Skeletor saying he does not like the neighbors, because they're gay, while his son says that their gayness does not bother him. The movie has now informed us that Skeletor is bad, but his peeping-tom son is good.
So yadda yadda yadda, we get a scene of High School where Skeletor's son introduces himself to the pedophile's daughter and we're told a story about how he was born in a mental institution, and he only sleeps one hour a night. I mean they just say he was institutionalized by his parents a few years ago and then comment on how unusually calm he is. They aren't ripping off Fight Club!
So the next night we see the pedophile and his wife going to a realtor's convention and the pedophile whines about how she always ignores him at these things. Geez, why wouldn't she want to spend the whole night fawning over his whiny ass? She says that part of her job is selling an image and asks him to at least act happy tonight. He responds by moping over what a loser he is to a guy who doesn't remember him, then slobbering over his wife when she asks him to stop being a dipshit, then angrily stalks off to the bar. And you see, the wife is supposed to be the bad one in this relationship. Loathesome witch! How dare you demand that your husband put forth the slightest effort in supporting your career?!!
Then Skeletor's son appears and out of nowhere offers to smoke pot with the pedophile. The pedophile agrees and it is revealed that Skeletor's son makes a living selling soap made from human fat, I mean that he's a dealer. Really? A wise and spiritual drug dealer? They just couldn't find a hooker with a heart of gold?
The pedophile and wife return home where their daughter is watching TV with the girl. The girl decides to tease the pedophile and we watch his fantasy play out. Then she teases his daughter by saying she'd fuck the pedophile if he worked out. It just so happens that the pedophile is outside with his ear against the door listening. Quickly he runs down to the garage, pulls out an old set of dumb bells, strips nude, and begins working out.
Then we get a scene of Skeletor asking his drug dealer son for a urine sample. This is to show that Skeletor is bad, because he wants to stop his son from doing and dealing drugs. I mean that he's so paranoid he takes urine samples from his own son! But the drug dealer son convinces him to get the sample the next morning, then when Skeletor is gone, he removes a frozen urine sample from his minifridge and sets it out to thaw! Oh you rascally drug-dealing scamp, you... uh... ew. You don't keep food in there with all that frozen piss, do you?
Then the movie forces us to sit through ANOTHER pedophile fantasy sequence involving a bathtub filled with rose petals and ending with 'Lester showing his hand between her legs. Then we cut to the bedroom where the pedophile is furiously jerking in bed next to his wife (There are no bathrooms in this house?) His wife confronts him and he angrily admits that he was... then lists an increasingly silly list of slang terms for masturbation. Wasn't this in an episode of Herman's Head? All this scene needed was a canned laugh track. There aren't enough Oscars in the world to throw at this film! He then says it's all his wife's fault because she doesn't want to fuck him. Now I know I'm sounding like a Sensitive New Age Femenist guy here, but jesus! He's spent the whole movie slumped over in a funk. He whines like a child every time she takes him outside the house, always shifts the blame on her for his own fuckups, and his only two moods are bored and sullen. Why wouldn't she want to tear off his pajamas and mount him right then and there? She tells him that if she's willing to divorce him in a heartbeat, but the pedophile responds that in divorce court he'd get half her stuff. This freezes her in the spot, because she's all materialistic and shit, and he turns away with a smile on his face because he's perpetuated the hollow sham of his marriage and made his wife feel even more miserable in the process. His newfound willingness to fuck children has given him confidence and strength he never knew he had!
The next morning the pedophile starts running with the magical gay couple and asks them for exercise tips. The pederast is a good person, you see, because he gets along with the gay pair. Then he goes over to Skeletor's house to buy drugs from his son. The drug dealing yoda offers him genetically engineered super-pot for $2,000, then lets him take it, saying that he knows the pedophile is good. Now he's a drug dealer with a heart of gold. Letting people buy his drugs on credit.
So we cut to a scene of the pedophile working out on a brand new bench press in the garage while listening to rock music and smoking pot. His wife sees him and says he's setting a terrible example for their daughter. He sullenly insults her for being so materialistic. Covetous dragon-lady! Desiring material things like SUVs and furniture instead of spiritual things like $2000 bags of pot!
Then we cut to a scene at the office where the pedophile smirks as the consultant reads his self-evaluation written to get himself fired. The consultant tries to fire him, but he says he wants a year's salary with benefits to keep his mouth shut over the hooker incident. The consultant refuses. Then the pedophile begins beating himself up, tearing around the office and making it look like the scene of a huge bloody brawl. I mean he threatens to tell everyone that the consultant is gay. They're not ripping off Fight Club. Then he triumphantly marches past the cubicles, he now had corporate sponsorship. Okay, first we have a drug dealer selling huge bags of weed on credit, now we have a consultant giving this pederast $50,000 just to avoid being called a fag?! And wait a minute. That's $50,000! That's someone's salary! Does that mean that another guy with a wife and kids to feed who isn't actively attempting to fuck children will lose his job to cover for this guy's blackmail? Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
The next day the pedophile's wife has dinner with a competitor of hers, the "Real Estate King." Turns out he's breaking up with his wife because she thinks he's too materialistic. And he has a lot in common with the wife! AND he's courteous and charming instead of sullen and passive-aggressive. Next thing you know, they're at a sleazy motel having wild disgusting sex. This is to contrast with all the pedophile's fantasies about fucking the girl, which are all soft-focused and arty and shit. This is to show us that unlike the pedophile's attempts to screw a child, his wife's infidelity is bad, you see, because the Real Estate King is a consenting adult. I mean the real estate king desires morally repugnant things like success and money instead of spiritually enlightened things like pot and boning children. I guess the demise of their sex life wasn't really her fault after all. Then the Real Estate King confides in the wife that his method for working off stress is going to the shooting range.
Then the pedophile gets a job at a fast food restaurant... Shit, you don't even need me to tell you a joke about his motivation behind that.
So now we have a scene of the drug dealer seducing the pedophile's daughter by telling her about the time we taped a homeless woman freezing to death on his expensive digital camcorder and how it was so beautiful. Then he introduces her to his catatonic mom and shows her Skeletor's collection of guns and, I am not making this up, Skeletor's Nazi collector plates.
At this point we get to the one scene that had everyone oohing and aahing over the film. It's entirely shoehorned in and has virtually nothing to do with the plot. Here's a link to the scene itself. Just watch it for a moment.
crib a line from Mr. Cranky, the moment the drug dealer asks the daughter, "do you want to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?" is the moment the movie shoves its hand up your ass and begins manipulating your emotions like a furious puppeteer. They pull out all the stops in this scene. Strings "oohing and aahing" in the soundtrack with little "this is so meaningful" piano riffs. The drug dealer breathlessly describes how beautiful this scene is and how it's like looking in the face of god. Then we get close ups of the daughter looking all dewy-eyed because this scene is JUST... SO... MEANINGFUL.
Congratulations, you've just demonstrated that with proper context, you can make art out of garbage. If this can be art, what are the limitations? Soup Cans? Tubers with dark spots in the shape of the Virgin Mary? I know we live in a culture that sneers at high society, but there's a price to be paid for never visiting art museums. You could walk out of a 2-hour-long ode to child-fucking with wide eyes saying, "Wow, that was such an amazing film! It showed me a world I never dared dream of! It made me grow as a person and learn what life is really about!"
Frankly I don't think they went far enough. A pure white bag in an alley littered only by autumn leaves, with freshly painted red garage doors in the background? Psh! They should have had him filming a pile of dogshit.
"It was an electric winter day... just before the snow fell... I felt so alive that day... Then a smell came to my nose... and I saw it... A pile of dogshit... If you look at it right you can kinda see a smiley face... the steam rising from inviting me to be happy with it... It sat there steaming with me... for fifteen minutes! That's when I knew... that God loves me... I was so fucking high that day..."
Next we have a dinner scene at home. The pedophile is trying to tell his family the good news about him quitting his job, but his shrill bitch of a wife isn't happy for him. Craven money-hoarding wench! Why do you have to nag him about stupid things like paying the mortgage and think about HIS feelings for once? Like he does! Living in a double-wide is the path to enlightenment! But the wife remains upset and for some reason gets even more upset when he starts swearing and talking about his dick in front of their daughter. Finally the pedophile shatters a dish against the wall, silencing his wife and daughter with the threat of physical violence. He mutters something about not being treated with courtesy. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
So the mother goes to the daughter's room and tries to console her. Unfortunately she's a bad materialistic person so her advice is bad evil advice. When the daughter mouths off at her she slaps the daughter. See? See? The pedophile isn't the bad one! He only threatened physical violence, the wife was the one who really did it.
Having gone through all this, the daughter goes to her window where the drug dealer is STILL videotaping her (yeek!) and she pops her top. No! You fool! Now you're at the top of Jason's hit list! Oh wait, this isn't a cheap slasher or exploitation movie, it's a meaningful drama. When she whips her tits out here it's a deep expression of her blah blah blah. And the persistent rumour that she was actually 16 when she did this scene wasn't started by the studio to appeal to the movie's target audience.
Next we get a scene of the wife shooting a huge gun at a shooting range. Then we see her singing "Don't rain on my parade" while driving with the gun sitting out on her passenger seat. At this point a bell rings and the word SUSPECT appears on screen.
She returns to the house to find a firebird sitting in the driveway. She enters the house and finds the pedophile rapidly turning into white trash as he drinks beer on the couch in his underwear. They fight for a bit, but then he uncharacteristically says she looks good which immediately gets her all wet. He accuses her of being joyless then prepares to fuck her.
But then she stops him right before he spills beer all over the couch. He immediately flips out because she's so materialistic. She tries explaining that the couch cost $4,000, but her protests fall on deaf ears. Frigid Hussy! How dare you demand he put forth whole microseconds of his precious time taking the effort to put his beer down while fucking you! And all for the sake of a couch! This is not weed, or a Firebird! It's a material thing!
Then we get a scene of the daughter in her underwear with the drug dealer, who's naked, talking about how it's a bad thing that her father is attempting to fuck her friend. The drug dealer gently admonishes her for thinking these things and tells her that the pedophile is a good person. Because if the drug dealer can still love his dad, Skeletor, than obviously the pedophile is a good person.
Then we get a scene of the daughter asking her mother for permission to invite the girl over to the house. The wife says that she thought her daughter had a fight with the girl since she so rarely brings to girl to the house. Then once the wife is out of earshot the daughter confronts the pedophile, telling him that she hasn't invited the girl over to their house because she knows he's trying to entice her. He responds, "You better watch yourself, Janie, or you're going to turn into a real bitch, just like your mother." Yeah, geez! What's the problem here? It's not like he's trying to fuck you!
Then the drug dealer gets a ride to school with the daughter and the pedophile jumps out the door to say hi. Wait a minute. He KNOWS his daughter is dating, and presumably sleeping with, a drug dealer? And he doesn't have any problem with it? World's! Greatest! Dad! Oh, right. He's a nice drug dealer. I'm sure they don't do drugs while they have sex. I'm sure he only deals in pot. And I'm sure the people he gets his superpot from are all nice friendly people, maybe even Ben and Jerry themselves! Nothing bad could possibly come of this. Then again the kid's his only connection and he has no illusions on how long a pederast cracker like himself would last in the ghetto trying to score weed. Good thing he's not all materialistic like his evil bitch wife. In the meantime Skeletor becomes convinced the pedophile is having sex with his son because, shit, how could that guy not set off your skeezy alarm?
So the next scene is where the wife and the Real Estate King go through the drive through at the fast food place where the pedophile works and get caught. Nevermind he has spent the whole movie actively attempting and masturbating in anticipation of cheating on her with a child. She beat him to it, therefore she's the bad one in this relationship. You can practically hear the screenwriter cackling to himself as the scene draws out her humiliation slowly and torturously. Now he will be morally in the right when he fucks that girl. Sorta.
We follow with a scene where the wife breaks up with the Real Estate King and begins flipping and slapping herself again, in the middle of a raging thunderstorm. Subtle.
So the pedophile beeps the drug dealer for more pot. When the drug dealer meets him in the garage, Skeletor watches through a garage window, where the position of the two makes it look like the pedophile is paying his son to give him a blow job. Wasn't this a scene in Married with Children? Best Picture!
The girl shows up and meets the pedophile in the kitchen and notices he's been working out. She tries to tease him, but he flirts back aggressively. She's skeeved out and quickly leaves the room.
So Skeletor confronts his son and threatens to throw him out if he's gay. The drug dealer, seeing the opportunity, goes along with it and says he's gay so that he can now leave. What? Isn't he supposed to be 18? If he was so desperate to leave, why hasn't he done it earlier?
And we cut back to the wife, whose histrionics are degenerating into vaudeville as she sits in her car in the pouring rain listening to a motivational tape and repeating the words like a dazed cultist. And this is treated as being totally serious! She then pulls her gun out of the glove compartment. The bell rings again and again says "SUSPECT."
Back at home, the drug dealer bursts into the daughter's room, with the girl there, and asks the daughter to run away with him to New York where his contacts in the drug market will help them set up. The girl correctly points out that it would be fucking stupid of the daughter to run away from home and spend the rest of her life as a drug mule/prostitute, but the daughter shoots back that she's in love. Then the drug dealer tells the girl that she's not really the daughter's friend, just someone who uses her! Then he calls the girl names and she leaves the room in tears. Geez, now that the wife's insane and the movie can't persecute her for being rational, it's starting in on the poor girl for being a decent person.
Now Skeletor comes to the garage while the pedophile is working out. The pedophile starts talking to him and everything he says, in a breathy bedroom voice, could be taken as inuendo that he wants to fuck Skeletor. Wasn't this an episode of Three's Company? All this scene needs is Mister Roper outside the door bugging his eyes and looking shocked at the dialouge. Suck it, "The Insider," the Oscar goes to this movie!
Then Skeletor tries kissing the pedophile and wah wah waaaah! The pedophile isn't actually gay! So geez, Skeletor is a hateful ex-marine who runs his house like a brig, conducting random drug tests on his son, has beaten and abused his wife until she's in a permanent catatonic state, beats his son bloody for entering a locked room in the house, and collects Hitler's chinaware, and for all this for the come-uppance is that he's revealed to secretly be a closet case? Could you be any more hackneyed?
Well enough of that, time to get to the money-shot that the target audience has been waiting for! The girl is crying because the drug dealer called her ugly, and the pedophile senses that she's in a vulnerable state. He gets some beer into her then tells her she's not ordinary and begins making out with her. And because art requires it, we get a topless shot of an actress who could pass for 12.
BUT! Then she confesses that she's still a virgin. Suddenly 'Lester realizes that taking her virginity is sinking too low even for him. What would a jury think? So he stops. See? See? the movie says, he didn't actually stick his dick in her! Therefore it doesn't count! Tell it to Satan, pal, it's called Child Enticement, and Sexual Exploitation of a Child. And the punishment is a bullet in the face on the steps of the White House.
So the movie makes an effort to show the girl telling him that her only negative side effects from having a 40-year-old pervert all over her privates is feeling "a little weirded out." Whew!
As for the pedophile, he has suddenly gained enlightenment. I'm totally serious. The movie has him give off a supernatural calmness, then he sits down at a table with a picture of his family.
Thankfully a gun comes from offscreen and spatters his brains against the wall. A gun used by Skeletor! So that whole Sunset Boulevard bit at the beginning? It was meaningless. His death wasn't the result of his descent into darkness, it was the result of a wacky goof-up! Thanks for playing!
Then the movie goes over this bullshit of how he's in heaven now and appreciates the beauty of life and blah-de-blah-de-blah. It even has the nerve to try the Matrix 2 Architect's gambit by saying, "you probably won't understand this." Fuck you pedophile. This movie isn't nearly as profound as it pretends to be. Think happy thoughts and the world is beautyful, "the secret," Peter Pan, bullshit. Fuck this movie with its tacked on plastic bag scene and chicken soup for the soul ending. It's a tale of how pedophilia is a wonderful uplifting thing for everyone involved and the only ones who suffer are those who don't approve of the pedophile's ways, like the wife who is now batshit insane and throwing herself around her closet hugging her clothes like a kabuki performer, and his daughter who won't become a bitch like her mother, but the streetwalking kind of bitch instead.
Fuck this movie!