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Monday, May 8, 2017

American Beauty, etc.

          Greetings one and all. I know it's been quite some time since my last post, and I blame the majority of that on the Disney College Program. Granted, I've had some downtime where I could have written up a storm, not about movies but about the incredible time I'm having down here in Orlando, FL. Not only am I surrounded by pixie dust and the magic that define Disney, but I find myself growing into an entirely different person. Different in the sense that I am growing out of my insecurities and into an independent and confident persona. Am I making sense? Probably not, that's something I'll never grow out of. My intentions with this post do not involve extrapolating about my time here in Disney. I have a purpose in this post and--believe it or not--it involves an actual film. At last, on a sole day off I have amidst my busy schedule of working six days a week, I have the urge to write. Perhaps it sparked from my dad's inspiration to paint a remarkable painting? Perhaps it was provoked by a phenomenal film called American Beauty? Perhaps it was the three drinks I had with dinner? Who can ever be sure? Anyway, I plan on writing as much as I can before this choo choo train runs out. Bear with me with the various tangents and eccentricities that characterize my writing. Here we go.
          As I said, American Beauty is a truly phenomenal film, one I'm surprised I have yet to write about. In the past, I've said that it is easier to criticize--or in my case, brutally admonish--movies. Writing a post that extols a film's virtues (?) and good qualities is rather trite. The positive comments come off as repetitive, sounding as though they were generated by a thesaurus of compliments. Also, a scathing post is just so much more entertaining. American Beauty, however, is far from horrible. In fact, I consider it to be one of the greatest contemporary dramas of all time. Fun fact: I work at Disney's Contemporary Resort as a seater at both The Wave and The California Grill. I don't know why I capitalized the word "the." 
          Directed masterfully by Sam Mendes, the film follows Lester Burnham, a beyond average man who suffers through the monotony of suburbia. He laments over the loss of his life, the essence of happiness that should fill every person's day. He notes how his family despises him, how pathetic they think he is. The film documents (?) his desire and sudden action to take control of his life and improve it for himself and only himself. As simplified as that description sounds, the movie is orchestrated flawlessly and enraptures the audience into submission. Not in a sexual way or anything, why would you even think that? Submissive. The score, composed by Thomas Newman, is ideal as it envelopes the film in a quiet, curious ambience that asks viewers to "look closer," as the tagline reads. That was a pretentious way of saying that the musical score of American Beauty fits perfectly and sounded very good. The acting by Kevin Spacey is spectacular, the perfect combination of cynical and hopeful. I was really hoping for a better set of traits to come to mind but I have nothing. Lester has a wicked and dark sense of humor that I think any person can appreciate, particularly his outlook on the workplace, how the higher ups really do not care about their employees and how they treat them like less than human. I can appreciate that observation very much. I love my job, I promise. With that being said, I think there is a bit of Lester Burnham in all of us. Yet another cheesy statement, but what I mean is that each one of us has a moment, or ten, where we look blankly on events in life, commenting in our heads how absurd life can be. In one scene, Spacey even breaks the fourth wall when he tells his wife that he will act however she wants him to act in order to uphold a facade for everyone else. Then he proceeds to drink heavily at a social gathering as his wife puts on a fake smile and mills her way through a crowd of people she doesn't really like. It's as if his portrayal of Lester is asking, "Why do we as people have to subject ourselves to these asinine moments, essentially waste our lives, when we don't have to?" I feel I'm getting a little too philosophical. I think I just want to make this post as long as possible. Yes that's it. 
The film is essentially just a progression of Lester giving less fucks in his life and that is something I think all of us strive to do. Every time the new Lester stands up to someone, whether it's his wife or (even better) his boss, you can't help but find yourself grinning super wide because you have those fantasies of telling people off too. Lester himself smiles when he finds himself with the upper hand in a confrontation and his giddiness must feel glorious. He says in the movie, "It's a great thing when you realize you have the ability to surprise yourself," and us the audience can only imagine how great that must feel. I digress. Kevin Spacey is a first-class actor, without a doubt, and he deserved the Oscar for his humorous, real portrayal of a man who finds himself at the end--a spiritual awakening in a sense. As cheesy as that sounds, the movie is anything but. It's just my mediocre choice of words. Annette Being gives an amazing performance as his wife, Carolyn, a woman who transformed to fit the mold of a perfect housewife. Yet the shiny veneer that is her pleasant demeanor covers a desperate woman who struggles to keep up appearances. The scene where Carolyn preps the house she is determined to sell (spoiler: she's a real estate agent) captures this as she vigorously cleans a house only to find herself alone and a failure. That scene alone should have given her an Oscar, but no. Hillary Swank had to get it for Boys Don't Cry. As if anyone even remembers that movie, please. Not that I'm bitter still. 1999 was a long time ago, I get it. I don't actually. Supporting players include Thora Birch, who plays Jane Burham, their daughter. As I watch the movie, she reminds me of a 90s Jennifer Lawrence, only more depressed and less lucky with an agent in Hollywood. Because she never made it, that's the joke. As Jane, she is, as Lester puts it, a typical teenager: angry, insecure, and confused. She gets romantically involved with her new neighbor, Ricky Fitts (spoilers, spoilers everywhere), after she becomes flattered when he records her from his front porch. Hard to resist romance like that, I agree. Their relationship, in my opinion, stems out of their isolation from "normal" society as well as their individual loneliness. I'm no psych major or anything, but that's how I see it. One scene that has cemented itself in film history is the "most beautiful thing I've ever seen" clip where Ricky shows Janie a video of a cellophane shopping bag moving in the wind. Captivating stuff.
          Another character is Angela Hayes, the iconic girl covered in rose petals that the movie is recognized for. I promise I won't go into the symbolism of roses in this movie because I know that's taking it beyond pretentious into realms I don't want to tread. The focal point of her purpose here is Lester's obsession with her. Obsession may be a strong word, but he does envision her wearing nothing but rose petals throughout the movie. His attraction to her essentially inspires him to better himself to the point where he snaps out of the dullness of his domestic existence, becoming a whole new man. Although it is a tad creepy that his lust after a teenage girl motivated him to change into a "new man," it's not far from realistic. Middle-aged men thirst after some drive that will snap them out of monotony. Or so I assume based on this movie and stereotypes. Sure, she's underage and he's literally old enough to be her father, but whatever gets him going am I right? I hate that I used the word literally. And that I made that god-awful justification for Lester lusting after a high schooler. Lester lusting, that's funny. See, I told you to prepare yourself for just how weird I can get. I realize I'm giving a character-by-character analysis but I'd rather do that than give a full plot synopsis. It's not as if I'm giving away massive spoilers either, this is all basically from the trailer and word of mouth. Moving on.
          American Beauty is such a poignant portrait of the twentieth century American family. And yes, I acknowledge the pretentious loftiness of that statement. I talk as if I'm some film major who writes screenplays in hipster coffee shops, but I can assure you that I'm just your ordinary movie buff with a tendency embellishing my language. There I go again, talking like a hipster. I'm going to just ignore it and keep going, sound good? Wonderful. Beyond the Burnham family and their domestic dysfunctions, we have Ricky Fitts and his equally (if not more) dysfunctional family dynamic. His father, played magnificently by Chris Cooper, is military--he is the military, that's what I said--so of course he has a strict paternal role to play in the household. It goes further (farther?) than that as his wife/Ricky's mother is basically catatonic, milling through her role as caretaker for her boys without a shred of emotion. This can suggest that Ricky's father abused her. Actually, I can say that is a certainty based on his brute character. Now, your modern gender-studies-major feminist will have plenty to say about how much of a bigot he is, and he really is. Though I could care less about that. What disturbs me is the menacing hold he has over his family, how he has reduced his wife to a shell of a person. What's more disturbing is that, despite this persona, there is a sliver of heart in this man. There are scenes where I can sense him struggling with his dominant brute personality, how he strives for an affectionate relationship with Ricky. In the end, the brute wins and he is forced to live up to this manly man standard. Chris Cooper's performance was outstanding, worthy of more recognition, I reckon, as he portrayed a man struggling with his persona as a man's man. There is a questionable scene at the end, which to this day I still cannot comprehend. Those who have seen this movie know what scene I'm referring to. Moving on, Ricky chooses to play along in this stern setting and live his life behind a locked door of his room where he conducts drug deals and records mundane events and calls it art. True, there is an artistic aspect to the little things in life, but calm down. A plastic bag and a dead bird are not that fascinating. But I digress. More on Ricky, he exudes such a level of confidence to a point that is both impressive and intimidating. In all honesty, I can understand why Jane is drawn to him. Wes Bentley here sort of resembles Jake Gyllenhaal as well, so that might have something to do with how attractive he is. Sure, his videos of dead birds are creepy and so is the fact that he finds them to be "beautiful," but you can't judge someone over frivolous things like that. This is me commenting on Wes Bentley's solid performance, not how I'm in love with Ricky Fitts. Just clarifying.
          With that, that is all I have to say about the matter that is American Beauty. I am actually right in the middle of watching it, this massive spurt of writing just came to me. I'm incredibly talented, I know. I'm really not. Before I wrap this up, I would like to talk about my time here in Florida thus far. As of now, I have been living it up in Disney for about three months and it feels like I've been here for years. I found myself here, as annoyingly cheesy as that sounds, and I feel myself becoming a happier person because of it. The interesting thing is that nothing about me as a person has really changed. I may have said something earlier about Disney changing me as a person, which I would like to take back now if that is what I said. "Why not just scroll up to see if you actually did say it?" Because I don't really feel like it, Cheryl, relax. Anyway. The single thing that has changed about me is how I view and carry myself in life. I can finally start a conversation with someone I don't know without thinking that I come across as some weird, random person. I can stand up for myself and not give a damn about what people think. Now I only care a tiny bit about what other people think, and that's okay because you can't go through life being a complete bitch, right? I can finally talk to a guy without the thought in the back of my head that I am unattractive or uninteresting. That is not to say that I consider myself a flawless, extraordinary person because I definitely do not. What I can say is that the insecurities that have restrained me from enjoying life before have disintegrated slightly. I say slightly because there will always be that cunt in the back of my mind telling me how unworthy I am of happiness. What is different now that I've been living here is that I can tell that mind cunt to fuck off from time to time. I say cunt a lot, that hasn't changed. I'm going to stop before this becomes some off-beat slam poetry set about how I've changed because I'm starting to irritate even myself.
          Well, that's all I have to put on the record for now. I hope I'll get more of these bursts of inspiration to write because I truly love writing. I know only a handful of people actually take the time to read this, and that the majority of them is people I know in real life, but I write because I love it. While I appreciate the flattery from those who read it--I'm looking at you Paul S.--I don't seek out recognition. As if that was ever a question. I think I'm just writing a bunch of nonsense to make this post a bigger chunk than it already is. So long for now and see ya real soon.

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