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“Smile! You’re at Mr. Smiley’s!” June 14, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Movies, Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley.
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Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) in American Beauty.

Oh, Lester Burnham. What do we do with you?

Okay, I know, American Beauty gets a lot of flack these days as overrated, as too tied to a particular moment in the zeitgeist — too tied to the last of the Clinton years, when everything was going fairly well but no one was exactly happy and we didn’t yet have any overt reasons for feeling that way, and how all of us just wanted to cut loose, regress into adolescence, and be free, man! — and so not really the timeless classic we all thought it was going to be. And yeah, there are probably a couple of halfway good reasons for the backlash. But you know what? I don’t care. I still love the movie, and I still love Lester Burnham.

And I really, really love this scene in the movie, when Lester’s wife Carolyn and her lover pull into the drive-thru at Lester’s “least possible amount of responsibilty” job: Mr. Smiley’s. Sure, I love it for the name and all the smiley faces everywhere — the bags, the window, Lester’s nametag, Lester’s face. But I love it even more for the result: busted and desperate, Carolyn begins a sloppy apology, but Lester interrupts her and — sincerely — tells her, “Honey, it’s okay. I just want you to be happy.”

It’s a wonderful prefiguring of Lester’s final words, when he asks his daughter’s friend, “Is Jane happy?” The friend assures him that Jane is happy, and Lester smiles and simply says, “Good.”

So what do we do with you today, Lester Burnham? The same thing we’ve been doing since we met you in 1999: we smile, because you just want us to be happy.

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Comments»

1. amandalovesmovies - June 14, 2012

While it hasn’t aged as well as some films, it has some great moments. I love when Lester is talking how he didn’t lose his job, it wasn’t “Whoops! Where’d my job go?”

Samuel Snoek-Brown - June 14, 2012

Hi, Amanda who loves movies — thanks for commenting!

Yeah, even Sam Mendes agreed in later years that it probably got over-hyped in `99, so maybe it isn’t as great as we all said it was. But it remains one of my all-time favorite movies! “I rule!” is still a classic. 🙂


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