From Guy Lodge‘s “American Beauty at 20: Is The Oscar-winning Hit Worth A Closer Look?,” posted in The Guardian on Friday, 9.13:
“I popped in American Beauty recently to find it oddly, sinuously bewitching. Dated, yes, but that’s a double-edged sword: it turns out to be an exquisitely presented time capsule, a snapshot of middle-class, notionally liberal white society entering a spasm of panic at the turn of both the century and the Clinton era. Its satire isn’t sophisticated, but it’s pointed, identifiable, and still often cuttingly funny, emblematic of a tone of withering pre-millennial snark that has since been earnestly outmoded, and not for the wittier.
“It was never intended as straightforward drama, but as garish suburban burlesque: a distorted funhouse mirror reflection of America already at its ugliest, with its performances and petal-strewn visuals expertly heightened to match.
“There are, of course, false notes aplenty, ones more critics ought to have spotted even then: Annette Bening’s unhinged virtuosity only goes so far towards concealing what an ungenerous, ill-thought con the character of Carolyn Burnham is, not so much an empty woman as an empty construct. The teenage characters are all emo and no real emotion, vessels for the film’s sweetest but thinnest stabs at profundity. And that script I loved so much, for all its smart, savory dialogue, is built on diagrammatic ironies — the homophobic military man’s a closet case, the self-styled slutty girl’s a virgin — that all ring a bit screenwriting 101, whatever truths are embedded within.
“And yet, and yet. I remain deeply, melancholically affected by American Beauty — partly, of course, because it reflects gently back to me the unformed, uncertain child I was when I first saw it. But it also moves me on its own terms and merits, its own sly critique of a fragile milieu, its own pristinely art-directed yin-yang of sadness and sarcasm, its own vulnerable but defensively lacquered performances. Hell, I still think all the rose petal business is woozily beautiful.
“Twenty years on, American Beauty isn’t as clever as we thought it was, though it’s inadvertently aged into a kind of wounded, embattled wisdom. Perhaps it’s worth looking closer.”