The depiction of sex and sexuality in American cinema was slow in maturing, but in the last two decades there have been a growing number of popular melodramas that depict sex as a meaningful part of a relationship. This practice distinguishes modern melodramas from the classical Hollywood type. Melodramas of the late thirties and forties were products of the production code in Hollywood and of the more rigid tendencies of American society at the time. Changing times have created a cinema that is creatively freer than ever before. Mike Nichols' Closer (2004), Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999), and Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999) were all popular melodramas that depicted sex and sexuality as a powerful human experience. These films are not distinguished from classical melodramas in that they merely portray sex in their storylines and use harsh language but in the importance sexuality holds to the characters and the extent of its effects on their lives.
[...] As a man and as an employee he is a total failure in his adult life. From his love, attraction, or infatuation with Brad the bartender it is clear that Donnie has not left the younger stages of the development of the human sex drive. His competition for Brad in the bar, a clever older man, tells him, “Don't confuse children with angels, it's dangerous.” Donnie often sits in a booth facing the bar so he can watch Brad. We see him smiling if Brad smiles, running his fingers over his teeth where the braces would go on if he had them. [...]
[...] This is most prevalent in in which Dan, Larry, Anna, and Alice live in a tangled web of relationships and infidelities. Larry accidentally finds Alice stripping in New York and confesses his love for her, saying, love you in every way it hurts.” She replies, “I'm not your revenge fuck.” Larry has sex with her and regrets it, admitting it openly to Anna and asking for forgiveness. He soon figures out that Anna has been cheating on him with Dan, even earlier that day. [...]
[...] The emotional impact of sexual occurrences is heightened greatly for these characters, even causing death. While others gain positive experience from their sexuality and grow from it, others are doomed to lose their innocence. This lack of fear in showing both the ugly and the beautiful causes and effects of sex and sexuality in film is a marked distinction between classical and Hollywood melodrama, and moreover, suggests a greater cinematic trend of increased maturity when it comes to matters of everyday life. For how can art effectively imitate life if it is afraid to [...]
[...] In “American Beauty” the single couple with whom we find a genuine love existing is Jane Burnham and Ricky Fitts, the young teenagers. As they both discover their sexuality the adults around them are abusing theirs and in the process screwing up their lives. The clash of these differing relationships provides a lot of the drama of the film. Ricky's dad beats him, for example, because he thinks Ricky is gay, until he finds out he is dating the girl next door. [...]
[...] She is the center of the rotating partners, not merely sleeping with both Larry and Dan but being married and engaged to them, respectively, while Alice is only ever in a relationship with Dan. In “American Beauty” Lester's reaction to his discovery of Carolyn's affair with Buddy Kane is calm and collected, surprising her. Lester's knowledge of the affair puts a necessary end to it against her wishes. Her response is to buy a gun and for a time she contemplates shooting her husband, who she feels embarrassed her for the last time. [...]
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