Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Sam Mendes’ directorial debut, American Beauty, is one of the most psychologically engrossing and, admittedly, strange films of all-time. Let’s get another thing out of the way too: Sam Mendes’ directorial debut, American Beauty, is one of history’s greatest films, and is one of the best directorial debuts in recent memory.
Sure, it doesn’t take a movie genius to call American Beauty a great movie. In 1999, the critically acclaimed film collected five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Cinematography. On the surface, though, the film’s success seems far-fetched. The plot consists of a creepy middle-aged man fantasizing about his teenage daughter’s best friend, while he struggles with his rather extreme mid-life crisis. That doesn’t exactly sound like the winning formula for a movie. But the beauty of the film lies in its tagline—“look closer”—as both the audience and the characters are encouraged to do as the film progresses.