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July 2000


American Beauty

Rated: R

Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Peter Gallagher, Scott Bakula, Sam Robards, Matthew Kimbrough, Chris Cooper, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Allison Janney, Amber Smith, Phil Hawn

Sam Mendes


Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) lives an every-man life filled with misery. "Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser," he quips. His boss is about to give him the axe. His marriage to Carolyn (Annette Bening), a real estate agent, is just for show. His daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is experiencing more that just the typical teenage resentment of her father, as she rightfully points out to him: "You've barely even spoken to me for months."

Lester's answer is to make a drastic change in his lifestyle. He blackmails his boss out of nearly $60,000, buys the car that he has always wanted, develops a secret crush on his daughter's best friend, starts smoking dope, and gets a job that he truly enjoys: flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant.

Before long, Jane takes a liking to her new neighbor and classmate, Ricky (Wes Bentley), whose quiet and deeply observant habits test the attention span of Angela Hayes, Jane's best friend. As Jane and Ricky develop into a couple, Angela fades away into a world of infinite loneliness.


American Beauty is a sitcom on the surface, but a remarkable social commentary laced with dark humor and thorough character development can be found just below. Kevin Spacey gives a performance - in what may be one of the great films of our time - that will surely garner him an Academy Award nomination.

The role of Lester Burnham is an extraordinarily tough one. It exhibits feelings of pedophilia, obsession, and carelessness; just to name a few. Kevin Spacey does it all, thus creating a believable character and delivering an amazing performance that is one of the finest in memory. Annette Bening and the rest of the cast all do a sound job and play their parts credibly.

The title of the film is as thought-provoking as its subjects. Is American Beauty a reference to the rose garden which Carolyn cherishes? Could it be Angela Hayes, the blond haired and blue eyed cheerleader that lives in constant fear or being ordinary? Most likely, it is a reference to what director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball are trying to show is the impossible dream.


Two types of people will see this movie. One will see it as a humorous, out-of-the-ordinary sitcom. For them, it is entertainment worth the price of admission. The other group will not only see those qualities, but the deep symbolic themes that lie between the lines. For them, the two hours will be priceless.

Mac VerStandig of