Bradshaw Watch Classic – ‘American Beauty’ 2000

Roughly a decade ago, there was a film critic called Peter Bradshaw whose reviews for The Guardian crackled with opinionated passion and carefully-worded analysis. His full archive is available to read online, and it’s a genuine pleasure. For example, his review of Sam Mendes’ breakthrough hit American Beauty (2000) contained the following insights – leaving out basic details of the plot:

American_Beauty_jail_cell– Before being released in the UK, the film had already garnered a reputation as “the first bang-up classic of the new decade,” winning Golden Globes and hotly tipped for the Oscars

– The film debuted in the UK at the London film festival, where Peter personally had the opportunity to see the “stunning impact” it had

– The whole cast give “superbly modulated” performances, but Annette Bening stands out for her portrayal of a depressed, self-loathing housewife – her “bright, chipper keeping-up-appearances smile [causing] her crow’s feet to crinkle and clench almost audibly”

– Bening also starred in a film called The Grifters (1990), which Peter previously considered to be her best performance

– As well as praising Mendes for his “precocious mastery of technique,” Bradshaw makes sure we remember to give credit where it’s due by citing the director’s “canny reliance” on the established, talented cinematographer Conrad L Hall

– Peter predicts that the film’s erotic dream-sequences will strike some as contrived and artificial, confessing that he thought the roses which act as their central motif were “stagey, pedantic, and a bit soft-core”

– Peter criticises the film at large for “elements of redundancy and naivety,” and traces of “saccharine,” holding up Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Alexander Payne’s Election as films which scrutinise the underbelly of American suburbia with far more “power and conviction”

– Peter notes that there is “a structural problem in the fact that a scene has been cut from the end,” referring correctly to the deleted backstory of Lester’s murder. As he points out, this cut radically altered the overall shape of the film, leaving a number of loose threads

– Peter likens the film’s atmosphere of suburban breakdown to Nabokov’s Lolita, citing the author’s description of someone who “accidentally sweeps the refrigerator and defrosts the driveway”. In fact he is misremembering the text, in which the narrator refers to someone who “watered his car, or, at a later date, defrosted his driveway” – the gag being that the actions being described are ordinary and familiar, but rendered alien by inserting the wrong verbs. However, despite the slip, Peter’s version is typically apposite and lyrical in its own way.

DO NOT BE FOOLED. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COUNTERFEIT FILM CRITICISM, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL POLICE STATION – OR LEAVE A TESTIMONIAL ON FLICKBOOK.WORDPRESS.COM

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