It also illustrated a pattern which that excellent veteran critic, Philip French of the Observer, identified with his lethal coining "flattire". He meant films which are ostensibly satirical but which really flatter the audience by ingratiatingly reinforcing all their prejudices. One of the direst had "American" in its title but was by a British director. The venerable Pauline Kael was still alive when American Beauty came out, to ask sharply why the middle-class liberals who were drooling over this tripe couldn't recognise the way it sucked up to them, with its catalogue of cliches and every punch telegraphed."Our knack for dire romcom"
When we meet the morose former marine colonel, he might as well say straightaway "I'm a neo-Nazi", and when he mutters something opprobrious about Jim and Jim, the insufferably sweet gay couple, you know for sure he'll grab another man's groin by the last reel. Had American Beauty been a really clever satire, we would have learned at the end that one Jim worked in undercover dirty tricks for the tobacco industry, and the other was an arms dealer who had been supplying the Serbs.
Even by those standards, Curtis is grim. Anyone who sees a film which dares call itself Love Actually has been warned (it stars an excellent actor, but Bill Nighy has gone awry). Martin Amis described one of the bleakest evenings of his life as sat watching Four Weddings, desperate to leave but unable to. He had gone to the cinema with Salman Rushdie, whose life was in danger and who had to stick to the timetable he gave his police guards. And so they were forced to endure every last minute. Not the most zealous Wahhabist could have wished such a punishment on the poor man. Four Weddings isn't a bad movie, it's a crime against humanity for which all concerned should have been indicted at The Hague.