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American Beauty
Year:
1999
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Romance
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
Sam Mendes
Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham
Annette Bening as Carolyn Burnham
Thora Birch as Jane Burnham
Wes Bentley as Ricky Fitts
Mena Suvari as Angela Hayes
Chris Cooper as Col. Frank Fitts, USMC
Peter Gallagher as Buddy Kane
Allison Janney as Barbara Fitts
Scott Bakula as Jim Olmeyer
Sam Robards as Jim Berkley
Barry Del Sherman as Brad Dupree
Ara Celi as Sale House Woman #1
John Cho as Sale House Man #1
Fort Atkinson as Sale House Man #2
Storyline: Lester and Carolyn Burnham are, on the outside, a perfect husband and wife in a perfect house in a perfect neighborhood. But inside, Lester is slipping deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression. He finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter's friends. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is developing a happy friendship with a shy boy-next-door named Ricky, who lives with an abusive father.
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Reviews
One of the year's finest
Watching "American Beauty" is like looking into a handful of American lives slowly plunging into moral and emotional devastation. Although these people are gaining a sincerely fulfilling happiness, they are also slowly losing their grip on human value and order. This is not your average social commentary, it has something most satires lack; poignancy. On one hand, this is a scathing examination of the facades and truths that surround a seemingly "perfect" suburban family, displaying what it would be like if everyone's true colours emerged, as they liberate themselves from the painful phoniness that society forces them to live by. One the other hand, "American Beauty" is a thought-provoking and emotionally devastating character study of two families finally achieving joy for the first time in their lives, unaware of the profound impact they are having on themselves and each other, and neglecting the consequences that will inevitably follow. "American Beauty" shines in almost everyway, from it's stunning imagery of beauty fused with violence and tragedy, to it's darkly hilarious script, this is one of those rare films that stay with you for a long time. But the main thing that makes this movie soar are the performances, Kevin Spacey and Anette Benning are simply sensational as the feuding married couple exploring new realms of life, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari and Thora Birch also showcase excellent performances. A truly remarkable film.
1999-10-10
Beautiful...so beautiful
American Beauty is the greatest movie ever made.

If you haven't already, watch American Beauty by yourself and give yourself some time afterwards to think it over. You will never, ever look at life the same way. It does exactly what movies are meant to do - give us a window into ourselves, and American Beauty does that better than any other film has ever done. No word of dialogue is unnecessary, no character exaggerated, everything is perfect...but if you have seen American Beauty you should know that already. Once you look closer at this movie, and see Beauty in every frame, it becomes so much easier to look closer and see Beauty in everything around you. You think I'm waxing poetic? Then you must not have seen the movie. Every character is a part of each of us: the Lester Burnham of change, the Carolyn of uncertainty and failure, the rebellion of Jane, the defeated Barbara, the false control of Angela and the Colonel, and the real control of Ricky. To me Ricky, not Lester, is the center of this story; he somehow controls or sets in motion the heart of Lester's rebirth and downfall. There are several parts of this movie where I lose control every time I see it, and none more so than the paper bag scene. To me that scene is simply the greatest monologue ever written.

I listened to the message of American Beauty - look closely and you can find Beauty in anything - and it changed my life. I rose out of a long, deep depression and started out into the world. Sometimes there is so much Beauty in the world, I can't even stand it, and it feels like my heart is going to burst.

This is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen.
2000-09-09
The zenith of self-consciously pseudo-profound inanity!
Someone put it best in one of the reviews I read earlier: This movie is exactly the result of people trying to make a so-called art movie and still win the best picture oscar. American Beauty shamelessly trots out every imaginable convention of what an art movie is and then glosses it over with cute shooting, a relatively short run time and face pace. It says virtually nothing about any of the supposedly unusual or profound content that ostensibly is its subject matter. Apparently issues of would-be gravity making cameo apperaances constitutes a profound social comment. It is a great jumble of clichés (spoilers here maybe): The neurotic wife, the homophobic army man (That he turns out to be gay is not of any consequence since anything serious is not given attention in the film, it is a cute afterthought. Though it would be a serious point if this movie had anything to do with reality)The white collar dick with a mid-life crisis, the artist who sees beauty where no one else can, the pretending promiscuous cheerleader. Are there any characters that aren't stock? I cant believe anyone commented that this is in any way realistic. This is not a portrayal of of American life. In reality the teenager with an abusive psychotic homicidal father does not have 40,000$ and cannot conveniently run away to his friends in NYC. The middle-aged man unjustly fired from his job does not conveniently have information he can use to blackmail his bosses for 60,000$ and live happily ever after. Living in a duplex as a teenager is nothing resembling duress; that would be living on less that one U.S. dollar a day as millions of people do. This could easily qualify as propaganda: When you are rich you dont have to worry, your problem is only that you are not looking "beneath the surface" to see the true hedonistic beauty that life is really made of. Well I agree that this beauty does exist. Unfortunately though I am going to burst the bubble of one of the supposedly most profound scenes in the movie: The plastic bag. Look closer, they say, and you will see the beauty in reality. Yes! but this is not reality! Plastic Bags do not blow in circles for 15 minutes. That scene could practically never have occurred in nature; Im sorry I did look closer and it was so obviously being manipulated off camera that it was absurd. That sums up the movie fairly: Look at what we call beauty, we say it is natural but we are really manipulating it. If wind machines (or whatever they are technically called) are really the wind then this movie is really based in reality. Sam Mendes and Alan (whatever his last name is, the writer) are daring the viewer to be as dumb and gullible as they hope they can be. And to my amazement they succeed. If we throw together a whole bunch of artistic clichés and it doesnt make sense to you then you are dumb. Anyone who has a modicum of sanity and any concept of criticism has seen this movie as the charade it is and I stand firmly in their camp. I literally exclaimed out loud (though I was by myself) "What the F**k??!!" at the beginning when Kevin Spacey says "In a way I am already dying (paraphrased)". It is the zenith of self-consciously pseudo-profound inanity.

Disclaimer for the inflammatory nature of this post: This is really just intended to be a rant as I am insensed at how many people cant see this movie for what it really is. I am not trying to analyze this movie in a deliberate or cogent way. If any wants me to argue more clearly then email me. And you will get a more thoughtful earful than this.
2001-01-14
The closer I look, the worse it gets
I first saw this in theaters back in 1999. I loved it. I really really loved it. I've seen it four or five times since, and each time, I like it less. I just saw it again a couple of days ago, and I stopped it before it was over. At that moment, I decided to sell my DVD. It has now been excised from my DVD Collection, about which I have considerable pride.

The main reason is that I have come to feel very strongly that this film doesn't know what it wants to say. It takes a bunch of characters, constructs various relationships between them, and sets them loose to run around for two hours, at the end of which, what have we learned?

I've heard lots of people make comparisons between this film and another highly acclaimed movie of 1999 which I hate: Fight Club. Both films include philosophically flimsy but highly entertaining critiques of materialism. With Fight Club, the critique on materialism is made by the character who turns out to be the villain of the piece, who seeks to replace it with fascism. In American Beauty, the anti-consumerist is, first of all, a total hypocrite, and second of all, has a life changing epiphany the moment before his death, but never gets a chance to expound upon what that epiphany was.

On the hypocrisy charge, consider the oft-quoted scene when Lester Burnham (magnificently portrayed by Kevin Spacey) yells at his wife Carolyn (played in an over-the-top caricature by Annette Bening) for placing too high a value on material things, in this case, a sofa. Fine. He makes a good point. No one else seems to have noticed, however, that this is precisely the same scene where it is revealed that Lester has bought a 1970 Pontiac Firebird. Since we at no time see Lester enjoying the use of his car, the implication is that possession of the object is a good in itself, which is the very apex of materialism.

There are lots of other things that we don't see, and I never noticed until I "looked closer" how conspicuous they are in their absence. We never see Angela or Jane don a cheerleading uniform after their initial cheerleading scene. They never make any reference to being cheerleaders. The whole concept of cheerleading, then, is merely a mechanism (and quite a contrived, not to mention cliched mechanism at that) to introduce Lester to Angela.

I also noticed, when I looked closer, how painfully bad much of the dialogue given to the younger characters is. "Lame-o" "Geekboy" "Take a whizz" It's just horrid. And why, exactly, was Jane looking at a breast augmentation website? First of all, her breasts don't appear to need augmenting (when I saw this in theaters, I thought she must want to reduce her breasts, but upon looking closer, the computer monitor clearly says "augmentation", which means a process of adding to).

The worst flaw of the film, by far, is the fact that we have one horrible cliche repeated twice in the space of minutes in the final act. The homophobic marine turns out to be a repressed homosexual, and the slutty cheerleader turns out to be a virgin. For the love of God, who let those two howlers slip through. Bad enough that either made the final cut, but both?!! It defies understanding.

The scene that made me turn the film off, this final time that I watched it, was the scene were Jane and Ricky decide to run off together. I was never very comfortable with this scene, because, call me conservative, I'm just not thrilled about a girl dropping out of school at the tender age of seventeen (or so) and running off with her drug dealer boyfriend. But what really got my goat was when Ricky ridiculed Angela by calling her ordinary. Fair enough, Angela had it coming. But for Ricky to not only accept Angela's principle that ordinariness is bad, but to use it against her... that bothered me. Ordinariness or lack thereof is not a valid criterion for judging the worth of a human being. Ricky, having been set up (clumsily) as a heroic character, shouldn't have descended to such a twisted and hateful principle.

The whole film has the feel of having been made up as it went along. It is radically different from how it was originally planned to go. The prelude sequence and the scene later in the film which it foreshadowed have become utterly pointless since the removal of the subplot about Jane and Ricky being blamed for Lester's murder. Now, that subplot is a bit ridiculous, and was cut for a good reason, I agree. But why leave the set up if you're cutting the payoff? [Notice that Ricky shuts off the camera before Jane says "You know I'm joking, right?"]

The sequence where Col. Fitts spies on Ricky and Lester is straight out of "Three's Company." Fitts sees just enough to draw the conclusion that the writer wants him to draw, and nothing else. That's a classic example (and the most blatant I can recall from any film) of bad, contrived plotting. What exactly was up with Mrs. Fitts? Presumably, her scenes meant something in some previous, unreleased version of the story. The initial meeting between Lester and Ricky is built on numerous coincidences... Ricky just happens to be working there, and he works there just long enough to meet Lester!!! And what self-respecting drug dealer would give a man $2,000 worth of merchandise on the assumption that he'd be willing/able to pay for it later? It would have been more contrived if Lester happened to have $2,000 in cash while jogging, but "I know you're good for it" isn't much better.

This film is ambitious. There are lots of individual pieces of greatness in it. There are a lot of really good ideas. But on a fundamental level, it just doesn't work.
2002-02-05
LOOK CLOSER at this BEAUTiful AMERICAN film.
Sam Mendes' big screen directorial debut will one day be mentioned along with classic greats like Psycho, Vertigo, 2001 and Sunset Blvd., which it cleverly mimics in a certain way. That way, I won't ruin it, if like me, you stayed away from all reviews and talk about American Beauty until you actually saw the movie. To my surprise, I somewhat succeeded. The script, wonderfully written by Alan Ball, who like Mendes is doing his first try in this certain ball park, and hitting a home run. Sorry for the cheesy analogy, but I may talk like that through out this review because this is the kind of movie where words can do no justice and it's almost impossible to translate your feelings into words. A similar experience happened to me earlier this year with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. But back to American Beauty.

"When You've Got Nothing To Lose, You Might As Well Risk Everything."~Tagline for this film.

That is probably one of the most accurate taglines I've ever read in my life. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, in what may be the best role of his career, which used to be Swimming With Sharks) is reaching his mid-fourties. Uh-oh, mid-life crisis time, he rarely ever talks to his daughter (Thora Birch) whose feelings for him, border on hate. He and his wife Carolyn, (Annette Benning, being able to make me forget about In Dreams) constantly bicker and the whole Burnham family quietly sit at the dinner table except for the occasional quibble about this or that, for instance ("Mom, why do we have to listen to this elevator music?") The new next door neighbors, the Fitts, move in one day. Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper, giving one of the finest supporting character performances this year), is a hard-core Army officer. (Every six months, he makes his son Ricky take a urine test to make sure he's not on drugs.) His idea of fun is sitting in front of the t.v. at night with his wife (Allison Janney) watching shows of Army Cadets training. Ricky Fitts is a hopeless optimistic. He is what Dawson (from the Creek) wishes he could be. Ricky walks around everywhere with his hand held camcorder (while selling dope of the side) filming all the beauty in the world. ("Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world that it overwhelms me and my heart feels like it's going to cave in). He finds a new subject to add to his beauty collection of film. Lester's daughter, Janey. At first she doesn't like his new interest in her and thinks he's weird, but as the film progresses, they get to know each other and she starts to understand Ricky, and instead of thinking he's weird, thinking he's special. Special in being able to find beauty in the most minor and trivial things you can think of. ("Would you like to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?" That turns out to be a 15 minute shot of a plastic bag flying in the wind, right before it snows.) One night, Carolyn, in an effort to help Lester save his relationship with Janey, (although, it could be her trying to save her own relationship with her daughter) makes Lester go with her to a basketball game at Janey's high school, where she cheerleads. Lester meets Janey's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari, in an interesting turn from Choir Girl in American Pie). Angela sets something off inside Lester and wakes him up from his 20 year sleep and makes him start changing and living life to the fullest. ("I feel like I've been in a coma for the past 20 years and am just beginning to wake up). Although this is work of an ensemble cast, this is really Spacey's forum. The acting throughout this film is remarkable. Newcomer Wes Bently was excellent as the outcast Ricky, who came off as shy, yet confident. The cinematography in this film is majestically beautiful, in every frame, it's almost as if you're invited right into the scene. For instance, in one scene when Spacey came home from a cocktail party with Benning, he was in the refrigerator getting a root beer and out popped Suvari, I was so entranced into that scene, that I actually felt Spacey's startle when he saw her. This movie could be categorized as a drama, although throughout the movie, I had a smile on my face. I got to know these characters, almost as if, as friends. In a gossipy kind of way, I couldn't wait to see what happened next because this film was a look behind the scenes of real suburban life. These people portrayed, really do exist in the world. Somewhat like the people in Happiness, the people and what they do are just like things families you know do, or even your family does. The last scene of this film is amazing. Although it starts too early, way before it's ready to, it pays off at the end. With tensions building, and emotions rising, the inevitable climax will leave you breathless while making you wish it wouldn't happen and that somehow it would change. There is so much more to say about this movie, and so much left out, but I can't help it. Sam Mendes' American Beauty is an instant masterpiece, as Lester says in the movie, "You have no idea what i'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry..... You will someday." I believe those are words to live by for explaining the brilliance of this film even though critics and audiences love it now, it won't truly be appreciated until after it's time.

2000-03-04
Great performances make stereotypes relatable
American Beauty (DreamWorks, 2000, USA), Sam Mendes's directorial debut. It's a dark comedy centered around Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged turd who lost the zest for life, but sets out to get his mojo back in his last year alive.

Dissatisfied with his real estate broker wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and emo teen daughter Jane (Thora Birch), Lester's lost until he eavesdrops and hears Jane's BFF Angela (Mena Suvari) claim she'd totally do him if he just got buff.

Carolyn is also lost. She's a snooty workaholic, captive to material things and her ideal of success. Her desperation for this success is probably the main thing keeping it at bay. She can hardly contain her frustration when people don't buy the house she's selling.

Jane is a cheerleader who falls in love with a voyeuristic loner Ricky Fits (Wes Bentley). Ricky just moved in next door with his abusive, dementedly homophobic, "order and discipline" Marine Colonel dad (Chris Cooper), and his mom (Allison Janney), a meek, horribly unloved, perhaps dim-witted woman.

The married characters are set up so far apart from each other, it's hard to believe they ever got along. At one point, Lester even asks Carolyn "what changed?" Most of the time nobody listens, in the last dinner table scene Lester breaks the asparagus against the wall and deadpans "honey, please don't interrupt me." Lester and Carolyn are both jerks, and still I was tricked into liking them anyway, Spacey and Bening have that kind of skill.

Carolyn and Lester's relationship is where the commentary about materialism takes place. Carolyn Burnham actually gets the short end of the stick here. She's really trying to uphold her standards. Her problem with Lester is his apathy, he's stopped believing in any rules and standards. Lester talks a lot about being owned by stuff, but Carolyn's views aren't expressed very well. She comes across as a prude scold until her affair with real estate rival Buddy "the King" Kane (Peter Gallagher), just about the only good thing that happens to her in the whole movie. Only then do we get to see that she can have fun too ("yes, your majesty!").

Some reviewers have stated that Lester's "this is just stuff" speech is invalidated because he trades in his sedan for a red sports car. I'm not sure. I doubt he'd allow the thought of messing up the upholstery stop him from getting it on in the car. But he clings to the beer and decides to argue. His point is right, don't let possessions stop you from living a little. Regardless, Lester should just shut up and move his wife somewhere she wants to do it. Instead he yells at her, now they're both unsatisfied.

Lester is an emotional roller coaster, starting out desperate, loathsome and contemptuous. He meets Angela and gets pathetically horny and sycophantic. He's angry at the world, vengeful and vindictive. Lester gets smug and rebellious, reverting to adolescence. He's completely self-centered during this journey. His silly rose petal fantasies invigorate him, but still all he does is anger people, smoke weed and flip burgers.

At the climax, he sees Angela for what she is and he understands who he needs to be. His lust for this girl transforms into a lust for life. He asks about others with genuine concern. He makes Angela a sandwich, asks about his daughter. Spacey's transformation is night and day. His arc represents the idea that death and wisdom go together. The smile Lester gives when he learns his daughter's happy and in love might've sealed the Oscar for him.

Colonel and Mrs. Fits don't talk. Mendes will show them right next to each other on the sofa but a world apart. Colonel Fits pours his energy into watching Ricky, who's dealing drugs right under his nose. The Colonel has a hair-trigger temper, showing a lack of the discipline he tries to beat into Ricky. It'll cause you to wonder how this guy made it so far up the chain of command, colonels report to generals. So many problems come from this guy's prying and spying.

Mrs. Fits maintains an empty glare, with big old sad eyes. She's subservient, and her needs have been neglected for years. She probably just wonders what can she do for her husband's love? I doubt she says more than 20 words the entire movie, but they reveal her defective selflessness and her feeling of unworthiness.

A lot's been made about the stereotypical characters and plot line. The writer (Alan Ball) and director were apparently aware these roles are almost like caricatures and the actors play along. Almost everyone is over the top delusional until a moment of truth, which gives clearer insights into the characters. The only people who don't seem delusional are Ricky and Jane, but Ricky's riffs on beauty are a little sentimental, and his response to seeing Lester at the end just seems disconnected from reality. Then again nobody's reaction in that last scene makes any sense.

We're told to "Look Closer," to see through the facades people desperately uphold. Sam Mendes directs with impeccable framing and staging of his shots, especially when he introduces the characters. Mendes artfully shows us the trouble with the people and relationships being portrayed. These portraits feature still or very slowly moving shots that allow characters' postures and expressions to reveal some truth.

Mendes clues us in to the tensions between facade and reality. Granted, the two Jims and the real estate "king" aren't exactly multilayered, so some stereotypes aren't subverted or redeemed. These characters are justifiable because they're necessary and instrumental in helping us to know the core characters. American Beauty is not concerned with kind, well adjusted, virtuous people. Lacking minorities, it provides flavor by showing middle class people faking it alone, together. It's a very good movie with a clear viewpoint. Go see it.
2015-04-02
The Best Film Since "The Shawshank Redemption"
I saw this film on a whim and was more than pleasantly surprised. The story line is incredible, and rather realistic. Kevin Spacy's acting is wonderful, as it is all around. I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. Spacy lives the suburban (as well as my own) nightmare. His character is so believable that I could swear he was me. A wonderful, yet darkly uplifting, movie.
1999-10-10
A movie that makes you think
This is truly an excellent movie. However I can see why some people do not enjoy nor like this movie, this is by no means the kind of movie you grab some pop corn and drink then watch through it. This is a movie that requires you to concentrate on every scene, and think about the meanings behind them. That is what makes this movie great.

Unlike most movies in nowdays, there is no hero, there is no running chasing blowing things up to give the audiences adrenaline rush. This is a drama that will make you re-evaluable your life with respect to your culture, every protocol we know in life versus our desire to seek happiness. It is a movie that in a very realistically subconscious way depict our modern lives.

I will not go in much detail here to spoil the movie, if you have not seen this movie, see it. I cannot guarantee that you will like it, but I can assure that if you think about what the movie is trying to say, you will have a happier life :)
2005-04-27
Self important and stylized...
By no means a bad movie, AB is nevertheless a film that suffers from it's own self awareness. One cannot help but feel preached at much of the time which, at least for me, grew wearisome. The stereotypes are irksome, as well. This movie joins the long list of "Oscar winners" that were not the best picture of their year.
2003-11-13
A comedy/drama/suspense film that is definitely going to make the viewer reflect in some way
American Beauty is a film that exposes the secrets and unruly predicaments of a suburban American family.

My reaction to American Beauty can be summarized into one word-- spectacular, as what Kevin Spacey said in the movie. The movie combines different genres to form a very interesting mix-- drama, suspense and comedy.

American Beauty is definitely praise-worthy, especially with the way the story went. The characters' lives get messed up in very unpredictable ways that will make the viewer stick till the end. The alternating mix of comedy, drama and suspense work under the spell of the beautiful score.

The characters are also a secret to the film's beauty. The not-so-usual-but-really-interesting characters are well-complemented with outstanding acting, especially Kevin Spacey, who I think did a good job in portraying a fed-up father who loses it.

Final say? American Beauty is definitely Best Picture quality. It is able to capture the dark side of suburban America while providing viewers with witty laughs.
2008-05-12
See Also
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