Although it is a truth universally acknowledged that American Beauty is the worst movie ever made, one still, on occasion, runs across this sort of thing:
Perhaps the problem with this collaboration is that Sam Mendes' weaknesses as a director line up too perfectly with those of his screenwriters. Mendes is drawn to projects with a broad social scope, but his most memorable scenes are stand-alone lyrical moments, like the scene in American Beauty in which a plastic bag blows in the wind.Lyrical, perhaps, like an embarrassingly overwrought folk anthem, but certainly not stand-alone. American Beauty's titanic moral and aesthetic pretensions hinge on those moments of blowing bag, filmed in inexplicably poor digital video, although what precisely the bag represents in the overburdened metaphoric schema of Mendes' minimum opus is unclear. Ah, if only we took time from our cluttered, harried, precarious emotional lives to contemplate . . . a plastic fucking bag, borne on a parking-lot breeze. It helps to be stoned.
Aside from the auteur's own obvious confusion about what, if anything, the moment means, the plain problem emerges: a badly-filmed plastic bag blowing around in front of a wall is ugly, stupid, and unredemptive. Film, literature, and photography have long found startling beauty in the weeds growing through the cracks, so to speak, but this is emphatically not that. It is instead a scene of such utter banality that it finally does succeed as a metaphor, just not the metaphor its creator intended. It is a metaphor for a banal, exhausted, strip-mined movie, something so totally plain and commonplace that not even an honest-to-god stoner would take it for anything more significant.
I do, however, agree with Dana Stevens, that Dave Eggers blows.