Angela

Few movies have a feeling attached to the presentation. You know the ones, Lost in Translation, Juno, Elizabethtown. Although subjective, the feeling is that of loneliness coupled with the search for meaning. At times, dark comedy screams a message so clear that no one understands it. American Beauty is that way. It succeeds with showing what happens when preconceptions turn to fear. At the same time, the film opens the mind to a world not much different from our own, but sparkles with beauty.

Kevin Spacey & Mena Suvari in American Beauty
Kevin Spacey & Mena Suvari in American Beauty

Women Who Wow Wednesday presents Angela, the cheerleader who captures the imagination of a middle-aged man forcing a change in him.

To know Angela (Mena Suvari) you must know Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey). Let him describe in his own words his life:

“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I am dead already.”

Later on, he says:

“Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser. And they’re right. I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”

From there the focus shifts to his office cubicle where he sits slouched in his chair speaking with a client on the phone. If you study the mess he calls a desk, you’ll see a small sign hanging on his cubicle wall saying, “Look closer.” The sign is a message to the viewing audience from director Sam Mendes. It’s to encourage the viewer to pay attention because there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

In the midst of Lester’s middle class family lies a disturbing isolation within its members—the domineering wife, the negligent father, the angry teen. Each have their own agenda, each want validation for their role in the family.

Angela
Angela

When Angela finally appears in the film, Lester has all he can do to get out of the evening drive to support his daughter’s cheerleading squad, the same squad cheering for the town’s basketball team. His excuse? He says he’s missing the James Bond marathon on TNT.

When meeting Angela for the first time she gives the illusion she’s self-absorbed and indifferent. Her attitude hovers around “you scratch my back and I’ll accept it.” But remember the movie’s tagline? Look closer.

Angela possesses the ability to move people into doing things they wouldn’t do had she not inspired the change. In Lester’s case, it’s obvious. She’s a Rockwell High award-winning Dancing Spartanette. She strikes him. His mind scrambles and all of a sudden, he’s a teenager again, wanting to get to know her like all the other teenage boys her age. The only difference, he’s not a teenager. He’s a married man. For someone such as Angela to spur those feeling in someone without regard to marital status, she must really have something wrong with her.

The truth is, though, you’ll have to look closer. There’s more to Angela than the outward snob moniker she wears so well. She sports a vulnerability few have seen other than Lester. That vulnerability comes to play later in the film, regardless of us having to deal with her current label as the class tease.

What else makes Angela different? Even if she feels there’s nothing worse than being ordinary, she proves she’s more mature than any girl her age. How? Remember how knowing Lester is the same as knowing Angela? His change in mindset couldn’t have happened hadn’t Angela shown up in his life. Had she not given him a second breath, a second hope for the future, he would have been a recluse for the rest of his miserable existence. Angela did that—not Lester. She did it by simply becoming a symbol to what he wanted from life—hope. She provided him that hope.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

What did you like about American Beauty? What did you think of Angela?

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11 thoughts on “Angela

  1. I have not seen American Beauty, but you are the second or third person who has had such great things to say about it – I think it’s a sign that I must find time to watch it!

  2. What do I think of American Beauty? Haunted, always have been haunted by that movie…in my opinion, one of the all-time best, ever. Angela…what do I think of Angela? I am a married woman and mother in my 40’s and she inspires the openmouthed, gawking teenage boy in me….Angela! She wields her youth, beauty, and seductiveness like a gleaming weapon, but she is just a child, an insecure teenage girl, who does it for the fun of it, and for the attention. I love the end, when Lester chooses to not to, and wraps her up kindly, tenderly.

    I love how you did this one, Jack…Angela is def a woman who wows!

    • Thanks, Kathleen! I found this to be one of the most challenging posts I’ve written thus far. I had to temper my words carefully not wanting my readership to think I was condoning certain behaviors. It was difficult to make Angela sympathetic, yet I learned so much by writing this. It really made my day when everyone thought the movie was as provocative as I’d found it when I first watched it.

  3. well, i’m a big kevin spacey fan and this was one of my fave movies starring him. i did love much of the struggle each character faced individually, and sad that they never really succeeded in uniting as a family. the lack of support definitely gave that lonely feeling. all around, a good movie – i should watch it again. especially now that TWD is over for the season, i’ll have extra time on my hands. 🙂

    • It’s a great movie. I watched it again specifically for this post in order to gain a better understanding of what drives the characters, especially Angela. I’ll miss TWD!

  4. I loved American Beauty. The Angela character could so easily have been the young, nubile fantasy figure that triggers (or assists) Lester’s mid life crisis. But Ball and Mendes were clever enough to make her a real, messy, conflicted person and that really added to the movie.

    • The script is an incredible journey. I love how Angela’s character seems like this stuck-up tease, until we find in the end she’s filled with the same fears as any one of us.

  5. I’ve only seen American Beauty once but it stuck with me, mainly because of Mena Suvari’s and Kevin Spacey’s performances (Mena was a major “crush” after seeing American Pie!).
    I remember you mentioned on my Frankie and Johnny post that “the beautiful thing about this movie is the lighting. So muted and subtle, yet at the same time, warm and cozy. ”
    I might just have to watch American Beauty again!

    • Yes, in the DVD commentary, Mendes kept referring to how great the lighting was to the movie. He thought it perfect considering the subject matter. I love how everything is grey until that one moment when the color red shows up!

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