It is a fairly common prediction that everyone in our society goes through what is called a “midlife crises”. A time of re-evaluation of the life one has led and a rebellion or abrupt change in life. To compensate for the banality of one’s existence one takes a divergent step out of their paradigm and try something new in order to recapture their fleeting youth. We have been given two versions of this idea from a male and female perspective in two different movies. “American Beauty” focuses on a male character to address his midlife crises while “Shirley Valentine” focuses on a female character to address her midlife crises.
Though they both address the same theme or idea it is attempted in very different ways. “American Beauty” is a socially conscious drama that hopes to sober us from meaningless materialism and to tap us back into the small beautiful things that we are likely to forget in life. “Shirley Valentine” provides us with a comedic look into the main character’s life as she takes the frightening step out of the life that she allowed herself to fall into. These two movies stress essentially the same point though they work from opposite ends of the spectrum to achieve the goal of entertaining you while you are reacquainted with the beauty of life.
We are given main characters in each of the movies that find themselves in lives that they are not fulfilled by and that do not hold to their young aspirations for life. Both have followed the typical passage of life in that they work fulltime, are married, live in relative suburban areas. They have what they need materialistically, plenty of food, the typical amount of luxury, etc… They however, are no longer fulfilled by the lives they find their selves a part of. Enter the mid life crises. By this point of their lives they are gazing into oblivion without the promise of change, of something new, or excitement. Where as in their youth they gazed into oblivion with possibility and potential. Aristotelian potentiality and actuality, in a manner of speaking, in you will. They capitalize on what they see as their last chance to step out of their lives and actualize differently then have thus far.
We are exposed to each character’s dilemma in two different emotional modes. “American Beauty” is decidedly dark, depressed, critical, and seemingly more socially connoted while “Shirley Valentine” is lighter in depressive atmosphere and it tells its story in much more comedic ways. “Shirley” is less socially critical and concentrates solely the life of the main character.