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Drama, Romance
IMDB rating:
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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I can't imagine a more trite film.
This film suffers from the same problem that much of current pop culture suffers from. It coasts along, only working as a narrative if you assume all the cliches the film displays to be true. From the power-driven mother to the closet homosexual, there's nothing here original, interesting, or even vaguely accurate.

Beautiful photography can't cover an ugly world view. Avoid this over-hyped pile of trash.
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.
...look closer
I have this movie on DVD and I watch it over and over again, and Alan Ball and Sam Mendes have shown me the omphh that has been missing in other films for a long time. I subscribe to a lot of the accolades to this film, but I do not think that it deserved Best Picture. It was an excellent film- but not an important one. As a kid, I grew up in suburban Orange County where there was truly a lot more than what seemed. I've seen comments posted that state that all of the "corruption" just isn't there: "fascist, repressed Marine Corps colonels; middle-aged men obsessed with high school girls; drug distribution amongst teenagers; etc." Well, I have news for those soccer moms who like to live in their hermedically sealed worlds and listen to Celine Dion- "LOOK CLOSER"! Kevin Spacey deserved Best Actor and Annette Bening was quite impressive as the two-faced housewife. The supporting characters were just as good and this movie never seemed to drag. It is not for everyone: it is unsettling, disturbing and somewhat raw. But a majority of conservative societies don't want the kind of in-your-face dynamic which this movie has. Well, okay. That's why they have movies like "Stuart Little."
I just saw how highly-rated this movie was on the IMDb top 250 films of all-time (I want to say it's in the top 30). This movie belongs in the bottom 100. However, I did see this movie only once, and nearly every scene was indelibly etched into my memory (I've thankfully forgotten a lot of it by now). That's because most of the scenes (including a misuse of shampoo in the shower) are completely over-the-top. The director should have cut out any dramatic pretenses and went with a Zucker-Abrams-Zucker comedy concept. Kevin Spacey's character is a jerk; he loses his job "unfairly," and immediately turns around and blackmails his boss. Then, he buys a sports car, smokes "100% safe weed," and hates his life as it is, until he re-discovers "puppy love." Good for him? Annette Benning's character is all right, the rest of the characters are stupid, and I forgot Allison Janney was in the movie. Question: in real life, is the "boy next door" who acts like a real creep actually the wisest person in the world who knows "what's it all about?" Oh, he's also the coolest drug dealer in town. Yikes! pass me some G-13. There really are only two good segments: Lester in the drive-up window, and Lester with the R-C car. That's about 3 1/2 minutes worth of movie. Were there plot twists? Maybe, but none of them created a story that I cared about.
Look closer at this dazzling, powerful masterpiece of a drama.
On a scale of 0 to 100; I gave American Beauty a score of 99.

Wow…no, I mean that. American Beauty is a film that takes my breath away each time I watch it, and every time I do watch it, I notice something newer, something more exciting and something more funny. There is honestly no other movie like this, and if you haven't seen it, there is something donged in your head, and you must do so now.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is in a mid-life crisis, caused by his stressed wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and rebelling teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). When Lester and Carolyn go watch Jane cheerleading, they meet Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), and Lester, caught in sudden lust for Angela, decides to change his life. Angela and Jane's friendship is not all it seems, too, because Angela only brags about how many times she's done it with guys and stuff. That doesn't help an already insecure Jane very much but she finds solace in the arms of the next-door-neighbours' son, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). Ricky, himself from a broken home as well, and Jane find they have a lot in common and eventually turn out to be soulmates.

Everything about this film is so darkly clear, it is extremely obvious why the Academy loved it, and it is very obvious to see that I love it. Spacey brings Lester wildly to life in a performance reminiscent of Spacey's acting coach Jack Lemmon. Also on top form is Annette Bening, in an over-controlled performance that is just so instantly loveable. While all the attention went to these performers, it is also Thora Birch (especially), Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and a quiet Allison Janney that manage to steal the show just as much. Sam Mendes is an excellent director, this is his first feature, and he is a British man directing an American-based film! And he won an Oscar for it! That's an amazing achievement, ditto to Alan Ball, who's script is effectively a stunner and an instant winner.

The best film of 1999, the best film of its decade and for now anyways, American Beauty stands tall as the best film ever made.
Great Movie
I loved this movie.I have had this mad crush on Kevin Spacey since I first saw it.I have probably seen it at least 10 times. The relationship that he and Mena Suvari have is so (out there).It reminded me of my own (pre) mature thoughts about older men ,when I was younger. I really liked the oddness of it all.There were so many twists and turns that you did not know what to expect until they happened.It was uplifting to see Lester get his independence.He made it all so worth it. For those of you that have never seen the TV movie "Homeless to Harvard" with Thora Birch you are missing a really good performance. American Beauty is by far one of my favorite top 10 movies of all time.

Becky Brown , Fort Worth Texas
one of my favorites.
after the "usual suspects" and "the life of David gale" i had great expectations of this one when i came in its possession. the first 10 minutes or so almost disappointed me as i began seeing the feature as a "self-indulgent" attempt in giving moral and ethical excuses. but then the characters are developed very well with such realistic aspects that strikes close to anyones personal life at least at some moments in time. unlike "the godfather" for example, this is not an instant classic for its artistic merits but because of its content.

family and individualistic dis-functionality here is not something taken to extremes with wacky scenes for the purpose to raise its entertainment value. the feature is deeply sarcastic with quiet many comic-tragic situations.the tone and the dialogs are made for anyones understandings, as shown for the general public agreement in rating this productions as one with the highest score ever. technically this addresses teenage, middle age and gay issues(as related to a standard American family with generally only one child) and the relations in-between.for example the Kevin spacey visual fantasy is one of a kind at least as generally seen on the silver screen. also, an interesting aspect rarely seen; that of an "abusive" wife(i guess unless one asks an ultra feminist this question, i think i can safely assume this aspect here as general).

while ALL actors are playing their roles excellent(the plot itself definitely helps with that or at least in how we perceive those as be) i was/am mostly focused on Kevin spacey. here is an example of an actor that has always choose his roles carefully.(his NEW movie as a director "21" is the only one kind of disappointing , but hey everyone deserves a "try" or 2 right?). in here he resembles so well an "ordinary" American and the life( or parts thereof) he might have in the "suburbs"(same actually could go for the wife, Annette Bening).his whole , new found approach towards life changing resolutions creates situations of pure simplicity, yet generally socially ignored in any over developed consumer society; that is the reason for which the title has "american" in it and not "chinese" for example. all the characters will make the viewer reflect on past, present, future... and "tense"...
Something much more than I expected
Whether you like it or not, you always watch a movie with an expectation. I didn't know much about this movie, and expected a sleazy and cheap flick about a horny old man. I have to say - I got a lot more than I asked for. I got a movie so filled with life lessons, so rich in so many ways, that I think it spoke to me. I loved the characters in this movie. The one that sees all the beauty in the world. The frustrated middle-aged man that is not happy with his life. The tough guy that does not know how to handle the social situations and problems he and his family is facing. I loved the music. I loved how it told such an important story with at times comedic means. Although I might have preferred a different ending, it still felt right.

I don't know if you will like it. You might well hate it. It probably depends on your expectations. I know one thing for sure, though: This movie is the work of spectacular minds. It is a movie for people that like to think. And if you did not think before you started it, I bet you will when you are finished.
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.
**** out of ****; Grade: A
A transcendant, beautiful film about suburban decay circa late 1990s. Dark comedy mixes wonderfully well with serious drama, creating a dreamy though realistic narrative sprinkled liberally with fantasy. Spacey has never been better; his range and delivery are amazing. Equally deft supporting work from Bening, Suvari, and Cooper, with Birch and Bentley creating a lovely, nuanced young couple that is rooted in their individual and collective uniqueness. A fiercely strong debut for director Mendes.
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