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August 02, 2005

American Beauty vs. The Ice Storm


American Beauty and The Ice Storm are essentially the same movie. Through the magic of the Netflix queue, i saw them both on subsequent nights.

Both are about dysfunctional families, mid-life crisis, sexual restlessness, infidelity, teen experimentation, and the secret underbelly of suburban life.

The difference is that one sucked and one was a pretty decent movie. Unfortunately, the Academy bestowed its Best Picture award on the one that sucked. Shows you that the Academy Awards are a joke.

A big reason for the difference was that one movie was about its subject matter, while the other was a thinly veiled political statement in which the subject matter was only a setup for the filmmaker's liberal punch-line.

Ang Lee treated his characters with gentle compassion. The other director had a huge chip on his shoulder against every character except one. American Beauty was the product of a bitter, angry, small mind. If you want my advice, pass it up and rent The Ice Storm.

Update: Perhaps i should be more specific about my objections, since it never occurred to me that anyone would disagree with my opinions on any subject [insert winking smilie here], especially someone whose opinions i respect as much as Professor Schwyzer.

It seems to me that the central villain of American Beauty is the one dimensional homophobe character, and i was a little taken aback by the over-the-top stereotype, which the writer employed to get his point across. The character of Colonel Frank Fitts, United States Marine Corps seems intended as an insult directed solely at conservatives. Here's a caricature with a crew-cut, who speaks with a southern accent, is obviously a Republican, a retired marine, an abusive husband, probably a batterer who beats up his drug dealer son and requires a monthly piss test from him. He's also a closet Nazi. But the big punch-line i alluded to — the "Crying Game moment" if you will — is when the villain, in a fit of emotion, kisses the Kevin Spacey character. The filmmaker's message to the audience is clear: all conservatives are homophobes and all homophobes are repressed homosexuals.

While i admit that some homophobes probably are repressed homosexuals (J. Edgar Hoover, and at least one of Matthew Shepard's killers for example), i have a hard time with a movie whose intent is so obviously to smear the military and conservatives the way American Beauty did. i'm very sensitive to political statements which are designed to insult not persuade, and which are disguised as art. Some have called me too sensitive, but it's no secret that liberal Hollywood filmmakers are often motivated by their hatred of Republicans. Witness this quote from an interview with Jay Chandrasekhar, who directed this year's remake movie, The Dukes of Hazzard:

You know, I’m a very liberal-minded person and I like to tweak Republicans whenever possible.
Great. Just great. Love that honesty. When Hollywood realizes that it's continually pissing off one half of it's potential audience for no good reason, that's the day they'll stop whining about declining box office receipts.

Posted by annika, Aug. 2, 2005 | TrackBack (2)
Rubric: Let's Go To Hollywood


have you seen "Sideways"?

Posted by: nikita demosthenes on Aug. 3, 2005

"The product of an angry bitter small mind." Well that would explain most of the movies that came out recently.

Posted by: Kyle on Aug. 3, 2005

I felt the same way when viewing Dominick and Eugene vs Rainman. The former was a far better movie but the critics went for the latter.

Posted by: Gavin on Aug. 3, 2005

When my friend and I left the theater after seeing American Beauty we were both very disappointed. I suggested that he rent The Ice Storm. I described it as "the movie that American Beauty wanted to be." That pretty much sums it up...

Posted by: Jerry on Aug. 3, 2005

great minds, Jerry.

Posted by: annika on Aug. 3, 2005

Never, Annie, have I disagreed with you more. I still use excerpts from American Beauty in my "men and masculinity" class... it's (IMHO) the best American film with a middle-aged male central character of the last decade, with "Lost In Translation" a close second.

Posted by: Hugo Schwyzer on Aug. 3, 2005

Hugo - I have a lot of respect for you in most every situation - except for your math skills, because you can't count out 5-7-5 for shit!

Nevertheless, wtf are you teaching those guys!? You've already got a bunch of guys who are sensitive enough that they enroll in a "Men and Masculinity" class, and now you are holding those two characters as people to emulate!? Your students are ALREADY too much into thinking about themselves and being sensitive! YOUR students need more action + less naval gazing.

I'll grant you that both characters made admirable personal journeys during those films - but I want my son to emulate them in very limited ways.

Those characters never had to be as broken as they were. They never had to be as inactive as they were. Those guys were lost men, raised by weak or absent fathers, wandering through a permissive society without a manly code they believed in. They were virtual spectators in their own lives.

Its wonderful that they discovered aspects of their own manly code during those films - but, still, its tragic that they had to virtually wreck their adult lives before they did so. When your class is exalting certain aspects of these characters, it should also be noting the waste and tragedy of the aimless, inactive, unfocused, codeless, unspiritual, selfish, and - I can't think of the other word - its something in the heathenous/hedonistic family.

YOUR students need a lot more Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and A LOT LESS Kevin Spacey and Bill Murray characters(though I do like the actual Bill Murray pretty well.)

Since I'm already pretentiously telling you how to teach, there's no sense backing off now: I recommend this blog for your students:

I've met Kim du Toit. He's one of the most intelligent, sensitive, personable, confident, filled with zest, MANLY men I've ever met. Kim du Toit knows how to be masculine.

Posted by: gcotharn on Aug. 3, 2005

lol, the day Hugo starts quoting Kim du Toit to his students, better look out for pigs overhead.

That was a good one, gcotharn.

Posted by: annika on Aug. 3, 2005

Thanks for the clarification, Annie; gcotharn, I'll check out Kim.

For what it's worth, though I love Chris Cooper, I never "bought" his character in the film. And as far as making a hero out of the Spacey character, I mean a hero in the classical sense: A flawed man on a journey that will ultimately result in his own death, but only after he has been transformed. Not necessarily as a role model!

And yet, I tend to take a lot of mulligans with haiku!

Posted by: Hugo Schwyzer on Aug. 4, 2005

Rather than "tweaking" Republicans, Mr. Jay should have worked on tweaking his film so that it didn't suck a goat's ass.

Posted by: Mark on Aug. 7, 2005

Some libertarians and Objectivists have enjoyed AMERICAN BEAUTY as the story of a man discovering his authentic self and asserting his individuality. I know I enjoyed watching Spacey telling pretty much everyone to get bent, and when I came into a bunch of money, as he did, I enjoyed buying what I damn well pleased and announcing, "I rule!" Didn't mess with any underage girls, though.

Posted by: Bilwick on Aug. 9, 2005

i have a hard time with a movie whose intent is so obviously to smear the military and conservatives the way American Beauty did.


The homophobe-as-closet-case is a pretty stock character. Was American Beauty lazy to employ it? Yeah. Is it some shocking twist? If you avoid all culture, or live in a cave, I suppose you could claim to be shocked.

Posted by: jpe on Aug. 9, 2005