Written by Sarah Kendall

Arts

Rated or Dated: American Beauty

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?

Lester Burnham

Kevin Spacey played Lester and bagged an Oscar for his trouble.

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.

american_beauty_6

Mena Suvari played the young object of Lester’s affections, Angela Hayes. She didn’t get an Oscar, but she did come away with a lifetime supply of potpourri.

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.

@Sarah_Kendall

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Written by Sarah Kendall

Sarah Kendall is an Australian stand-up comic who lives in London. She likes pictures of cats with lasers coming out of their eyes.