The “All American” Family

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Sara Delgado

Film 1070-015

Final Essay

The “All American” Family

This semester in Film and Culture we learned a lot about cultural diversity in film. We discussed different issues such as homosexuality and race as well as learned about classic Hollywood films and film noir, just to name a few.

Through taking this course I learned to observe films with a different mindset. Several movies I had previously seen and after watching them again I was able to notice other messages within the films. For my final essay I decided to analyze one of my favorite films through this new mind set, “American Beauty.”

“American Beauty” was written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes in 1991. It is an artistic film, as you can see just by looking at the cover which features Mena Suvari naked in a bath of rose petals. The film continues it visual appeal throughout, with vibrant red and rose’s shown.

The dark drama stars Kevin Spacey as the lead, Lester Burnham whom is the average white man who begins to go through a midlife crisis. He narrates the film and describes himself as “boring, faceless, and easy to forget.” His on screen wife, Carolyn is played by Annette Bening and is extremely uptight in their almost loveless relationship. Gender roles amongst this film aren’t exactly traditional. Although the characters all seem very real, from the outside they seem to be the all American family, but once we get a look inside their lives we find that they are much more “normal” and messed up than originally thought.

I particularly like this twist on the “all American family” because I feel as though it makes them more real and almost more relatable. It shows that they aren’t perfect, and they all have their own issues and flaws. The daughter for instance, Jane seems to be a depressed adolescent and struggles with confidence issues. I think that most girls could relate to her character at some point in their lives, especially during teen years when self-esteem is constantly fluctuating.

There are several times during the film that the issue of sexuality comes up. Lester is a sexually frustrated man that seems to receive no intimacy from his wife and he fantasizes about his daughter’s over sexualized friend, Angela. Angela deals with her self-esteem issues by over sexualizing everything and by attempting wanted sexually by almost every male she is in contact with. She even tells Jane that she thinks her father Lester is hot, and that she wants to sleep with him which Lester overhears while eaves dropping on the two.

Looking into the film it seems as though all the women are still objectified in a way, lusting after another man. Carolyn has an affair with a successful realtor she admires. Jane ends up in a relationship with the mysterious boy next door, Ricky. And Angela clearly is the fantasy that clouds Lester’s mind. Men still seem to have the upper hand and control in all of these “relationships” and the women almost always end up as a sexual object.

Homosexuality is also a huge issue that is slowly, and almost, very subtly revealed. The Burnham’s live next door to Ricky’s family. His father Frank is a very stern, uptight military man. He is portrayed as overly strict and controlling. Ricky deals marijuana to Lester, and in an almost sly, comedic way Frank takes notices and it appears as though Ricky and Lester are actually having some kind of physically, intimate affair. Frank believes his son is gay and after a violent confrontation Ricky is kicked out of the house for his supposed homosexuality. Later in the film we come to the realization that Frank’s behavior and attitude are due to him actually being homosexual. He comes on to Lester, and is turned down and enraged by outing himself.

These are just bits are pieces of the film, but I still find that “American Beauty” is one of my favorite films. It shows a look at what I think would be more realistic of the all American family. Rather than being this picture perfect family, it shows the lives of several people dealing with real issues that they are facing and living. Although the average American family’s troubles may not end in murder, it does show that there are many problems dealt with among individuals.

Not only does this film show examples of gender, sexuality, and homosexuality, it also holds some interesting messages about life. I enjoyed that it showed what it was like for a man dealing with a midlife crisis, as well as teenagers confronting self-esteem issues, and a man attempting to come to terms with his homosexuality just to name a few. There are also many great quotes and messages just about life within “American Beauty.” This film is both visually appealing with a dark cinematic feel and keeps you entertained with an interesting plot that is different from your average modern day films about American families.

Works Cited

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