In the first in a new series, Standard Issue writers revisit a film/book/TV series to see if it’s stood the test of time. For Sarah Kendall, has the 1999 film lost its looks?
What and why: Lester Burnham is a frustrated, white, upper middle-class man who hates his job and his wife’s hollow materialism. So he quits his job, buys a cool car, starts smoking weed and becomes obsessed with screwing his teenage daughter’s best friend. Hilarity ensues.
Why? At the time, American Beauty seemed to be a film that defied classification. It was so funny: the dad bunked off work and got high! The mum was such a tight arse who was so embarrassed by the dad’s shenanigans! But it was also really serious: there was that scene where the weird kid filmed a plastic bag being tossed around by the wind. It was deep.
Rated or dated: Dated. Most noticeable was the misogynistic portrayal of Lester Burnham’s middle-aged wife, Carolyn. Her materialism is so shallow, but apparently her husband buying a really cool car isn’t materialistic; it’s a symbol of his liberation. Her need for sex and love is so pathetic – she’s having an affair with a douche-bag real estate agent, and her sex scene entails her legs being splayed in the air while she makes noises like a dying barnyard animal. Evidently her husband lusting after a beautiful underage girl is far more dignified.
What’s most distressing is the core of Lester Burnham’s revelation: the only reason he doesn’t have sex with his daughter’s best friend is because she is a virgin. What a guy. She’s a virgin, so she’s a nice girl who shouldn’t be screwed by her best friend’s dad. So if she weren’t a virgin, he would have proceeded because she’s probably a bit of a slut who’s up for it?
This is a film that sets out to explore the big themes of life – sexuality, desire, materialism, and loneliness – yet manages to say nothing. It does, however, reduce young girls to either a Madonna or a whore, and older women to undesirable and pathetic objects of ridicule.
This film basically provides a sympathetic wank forum for anyone who wants to attach meaningful feelings to nailing underage girls.4727 Views
Sarah Kendall is an Australian stand-up comic who lives in London. She likes pictures of cats with lasers coming out of their eyes.