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American Beauty

Almost faultless tale that peels back the squeaky clean formica of middle American suburbia to show the desperate frustration and boredom beneath the crushing social conformity.

It's easy to see each character as given to strange social foibles, but each have a deeper sense of the truth, no matter how much they admit it to themselves. In the case of the lead character Lester Burnam (Spacey), we seem to have a pathetic middle aged loser, sexually enthralled by his teenage daughter's classmates and with a nowhere career.

His subsequent breakout from the dullness of his existence and realisation of the joy to be found in just being alive and doing what you want is beautiful and priceless (blackmailing his employers, trading in his safe family sedan for the hot rod he's always wanted, and the pivotal realisation - that the material trappings around he and his wife are 'just stuff').

The subplots all tie in to a brilliant central thesis. There's the weirdo kid next door (Bentley), who we find out can see a clearer truth than anyone, Lester's lost-in-adolescence daughter (Birch) with whom the weirdo kid shares it, the homophobic career soldier with a terrible secret (Cooper) and Lester's over-wrought wife (Benning) for whom success is like oxygen she's running out of.

Mendes gets iron clad performances according to the stereotypes he's destroying from every member of the cast, particularly newcomer Bentley. A story about escaping a ridiculous existence that will enthrall anyone who's ever wanted to stop the world and get off.

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