I don't want to tell you what to do, but I just took a look at the list of films we're about to lose from everybody's favorite streaming platform, and there's something that stood out. Guys, there's only one movie to watch before it leaves Netflix in December. In an ideal world, you'd have plenty of time to catch everything that's about to slip through our collective clutches come Dec. 1. But, since that's only days away, you gotta do some triage here. Obviously, the movie that comes out at the top of the heap is American Beauty .
American Beauty was released in 1999, and stars Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham, a man going through a mid-life crisis. He becomes obsessed with, and starts pursuing, a much-younger girl, played by Mena Suvari. You might think that sounds fairly standard, and, indeed, you see that exact dynamic play out in real-life Hollywood relationships all the time. However, in this case, Lester is married — Annette Bening plays his wife — and the girl, Angela, is best friends with his daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch. Ah, there's the drama.
I don't want to ruin too much for you, because the movie really speaks for itself, but the whole story is a tangle of complicated relationships encompassing the themes of betrayal, secrets, imprisonment, lies, blackmail, depression, sexuality, repression, beauty, violence, and, honestly, the meaning of life and knowing who you are. It really covers everything, and it's helped along significantly by the fact that the performances themselves are outstanding across the board.
Maybe that's why American Beauty was so heaped with awards that year, because — did I mention? — it was nominated for eight Academy Awards. It walked away with five of them: Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director for Sam Mendes, Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, and Best Picture overall. Sure, Bening missed out on her Best Actress win, but it was to Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry, so it's hard to think of a fairer loss. This film was not messing around, and it completely holds up even 17 years later.
I'd love to say that almost two decades down the line, the world is in a place where you can live your life as exactly who you are and not be bothered by anyone. (Assuming you don't hurt anyone or spread prejudice and hate, of course.) But, even though we've come a long way since 1999, there are still unfortunately large swaths of the population who feel that they have to push down who they are inside and live a life in public different from the one they long for in private.
That's one of the main themes of American Beauty, and it could be argued that societal pressure and repression are the root causes of much of the unhappiness in the film. Lester's unhappiness in his marriage, his wife Carolyn's neuroses, their daughter Jane's insecurities, their neighbor Colonel Fitts' homophobia... the list goes on and on, and all these little miseries come to a climax in the course of the film. Ultimately, they turn it into a tragedy, in spite of the movie's lighter moments.
It's a movie that feels particularly relevant right now, going into four years of an uncertain political future, where the many are facing down the unknown, fearful to be their true selves for fear of marginalization. That makes American Beauty important to watch, not just because it's an incredible film, but because it has a lot to say about self-acceptance, inclusivity, and love, and what happens in its absence.
Don't believe me? Well that works out, because you have until Dec. 1 to watch it for yourself. Join the universal chorus of critics showering acclaim on this classic before it disappears from Netflix forever and your regret sets off your very own mid-life crisis. Stakes are high, and the ball's in your court.
Images: DreamWorks Pictures (2); Giphy