American Beauty

American Beauty as Melodrama

Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999) is a good example of melodrama’s presence within the modern American film industry. Its moments of comedy and tragedy are a result of its essential melodramatic intentions. However, it differs from classical melodrama in the sense that the idea of maintaining a nuclear family is not an important theme.

The film starts off in a style that can be considered “film noir-esque”, similar to that of Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard in which we hear the voice of our protagonist Lester Burnham in a voice over. “I’ll be dead in a year,” he says. “In a way, I’m dead already.” This solemn introduction by Lester Burnham parallels the introduction of Sunset Boulevard when we hear the voice over of William Holden narrating the story from the dead protagonist’s perspective. Similarly, both American Beauty and Sunset Boulevard are told in a flashback sequence of events all taking place in the recent past.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, the protagonist who is fed up with the lack of respect from his wife Carolyn and daughter Jane. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about Lester, while following him on a journey to achieve happiness. In one of the first sequences of the film, Lester...

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