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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
A different kind of American family
A movie brilliantly disguised as an entertaining sitcom-ish family drama that takes every opportunity to establish the characters' individual story lines to the point in which the plot has expanded to twice the scope it had in the beginning.

Every character feels like grounded people with their own arcs by the end and it's surprising how detailed they become. The comedic undertone slowly becomes more unsettling as the events spiral to the extremes.

Kevin Spacey, Anette Bening and Chris Cooper all give great performances in this movie that help make their characters more sympathetic while still with questionable acts.

The trailer makes the movie seem like a generic 90s American family comedy where the focus is in Kevin Spacey but that couldn't be further from the truth.

It's a great subversion of the ideal American family taken to an extreme in which it could go any direction. And that it does.
2017-10-14
Excellent
Giving the 10 i say all. This movie is one of the best i've seen all my life long. It's scarily, see the reality like this. The romance between Ricky Fits and Jane Burnham... without words. The first time i saw it, i begun to think in everything can happen in the planet and we don't expect. All the bad actions, the secrets, the lies, the supposed beauty... perfection. That's not beauty. I think the movie just... stay in the brain and the thoughts of everyone who see it. Something so stressing in the film: Ricky's father. That man is just so crazy, trying his son and wife like this... and he kills one man just to keeps hiding his secret.
2005-03-23
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
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
...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."
2002-06-26
Steve's Film Page on Facebook
Transcendent. A marvel of a film. There are an astonishing number of themes that are each explored and strongly supported by the cinematography, and that makes this film different each time you watch it. I chose to recognize authenticity and redemption as the central themes, especially considering the 'look closer' tagline. The smart and subtle uses of color support several themes, but are also subliminally subversive. The cinematography in American Beauty and the myriad goals it accomplishes are nothing short of genius and quite nearly mind control. Mendes' direction here is a staple of self-control and fearlessness in Hollywood. Spacey's performance was shockingly powerful and resonant. Everything just works, even the mishaps. My only caveat: with so many themes, it feels as though they are wrestling for attention. I felt forced to focus on the satirical aspect of the film, which becomes lacking. It's not that the film is beyond comprehension, rather the themes begin to contradict one another, producing a sort of unwanted chaotic element that is detrimental to the greater lessons to be learned. But the achievements in American Beauty cannot be ignored. You can spend days watching this film, trying to wrap your head around the beautiful meaning of life that it presents you with. But it's for you to determine what that meaning is. Top 500 film. 8/10 — watching American Beauty.
2017-06-14
Best Movie of the Year
`American Beauty' is a film that comes along and says things like few films have ever done before. A film that is maddening brilliant in how it audaciously blends the absurd with the dramatic.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) wakes up one morning and announces in a voice-over that his life is miserable and that the highlight of his day will be his morning jerk-off session in the shower. He then proceeds to tell us about how, one year from now, a certain incident will occur. For the next two hours we are exposed to the incidents that lead to that moment.

Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Benning) have no marriage. They hate each other and they do not relate to their daughter in any way. Jane (Thora Birch) has little respect for them, in return.

Lester's life changes when he and his wife force themselves to go to a school basketball game, where Jane is performing on the cheerleading team. There, Lester becomes entranced by Jane's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari).

This attraction seems rather frivolous at this point in the film, because it appears that the attraction is based solely on sexual desire. Angela is a beautiful, cocky young woman who's sole philosophy is to not be ordinary. She feels that because she is a stunner--a seductress--she is beyond everyone else. The ironic thing is that towards the end of the film, she is emotionally crippled when she has to admit that she is ordinary. The sad thin, in turn, and what lies at that heart of the movie, is that one does not need to be extraordinary to be ordinary--that beauty lies in everything, as long as such beauty is appreciated.

Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) is the mysterious new next door neighbor who becomes secretly obsessed with Jane--videotaping her at every turn. At first, this activity turns Jane off, until she becomes entranced by the reasoning behind this. His father, Wes, caught him doing pot one day and sent him to military school, where Ricky almost killed a boy--in turn, he was sent to a sanitarium. The family moves in next door and you are given a dose of true dysfunction.

It is through Ricky's obsessive video collection--through which he videotapes the world--that we get to learn the theme of the movie. It is through Ricky that Jane begins to live and learns to love herself. Ricky, one of the saddest characters I have seen in film history, is a boy who learned to appreciate the beauty of life while trying to escape the horrors of his home. His father Wes is an evil man, haunted by demons that are later revealed, who is obsessed with discipline.

I can't say much more about the movie simply because there is just too much to say about it, and also because I don't want to spoil the process the characters take to change their lives and how these lives end up--especially in the very `suspenseful' final minutes.

All I can say is that there are scenes in this film that have hit me like few other scenes have hit me. Much is not seen of Barbara, Ricky's mom, in the film--but one scene, where she looks at her son's beaten faced is so shocking and tragic because of the line she tells him when she touches his face. The words are uttered by a woman who--as the audience can tell--has been emotionally paralyzed by her husband. The words are ironic in the context in which they are said--but the fear and motivation is perfectly understood.

Annette Benning has given the performance of the year. May they give her the Oscar this very woman. This woman juggles drama with comedy like only a true master can. There is one particular scene, where she fails to sell a house, and she begins to cry. Just when you think she is being melodramatic, she begins to beat herself senseless--only to then contain herself. Ditto for Spacey and the bravura turn he gives as a man who basically decides to reclaim a lost life--and focus on what is truly important in his life. From anger to smugness--every expression is as three-dimensional as the next, showing us that he is one of our greatest actors.

The film is completely adept in exploring the dysfunctional lives of characters coming to terms with the meaning of their lives. These are characters who are miserable in their present states. These are characters who decide to change. Some succeed and some fail--sometimes on their own or based on the actions of others. Others, after claiming happiness, only loose it and seek to punish the ones that took that momentary nirvana away from them. Alan Ball directed this complex gem with the finesse only a true master could posses.

The theme of the movie centers around the concept of what is ordinary and what kind of beauty lies within the ordinary and you leave the theatre, after hearing the final voice-over, looking around you and truly observing the significance of everything and how the importance that you give to objects truly reflects the way you perceive yourself and your place in the world.

The metaphors are explored beautifully (i.e. rose petals) as are characters motivations (i.e. the color of hedge clippers). A film so complex in meaning, it will take more than one viewing to fully digest. A film so important because, like few before, it truly makes a brave and relevant comment on our place in the world and how we relate to others. A film that, for me, blew away just about every other film I saw this year.
1999-09-07
A Masterpiece
This movie is probably one of the greatest I've seen in my entire life. Every character in this movie plays his/her role phenomenal. A movie like this doesn't come around every so often. This movie deserved every academy award that it won (but it did deserve more.) Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham. This is probably one of the greatest acting performances in history. If you saw the movie then you would realize why I say this.

The movie has a very dark tone about it. The theme of this movie goes much deeper than you realize, and explains how beautiful and how bad life could be.

From Start to finish this is a masterpiece and I strongly recommend it. 10/10
2008-03-05
An American Masterpiece
This is by far one of the best, if not THE, movies of the 90's. "American Beauty" stole my vote immediately as I started watching it. The idea and concept of "American Beauty" is just some ordinary people on an ordinary block with ordinary lives.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnam, a middle aged married man who has lost some hope in life. He has a job that is degrading, a wife who refuses to show any type of loving emotion towards him, a daughter who practically hates herself, and is judged constantly as a looser. But all of a sudden, he sees his daughter's friend, Angela, and something snaps in him to do something with his life. He quits his job and takes, the dreaded by most Americans, a fast food cook job. He starts working out and doing some illegal substances. Even though this sounds like he is ruining his life, it actually helps him and makes him realize how much he loves "the precious moments in his stupid little life." You have no idea what he is talking about I'm sure, but don't worry, you will some day. Kevin Spacey was by far the best actor in 1999 and deserved this Oscar 100%.

Annete Benning plays Carol Burnam, Lester's wife. She is a very fake and unsuccessful real estate agent who cannot get a sale. Her image in life is "in order to be successful, one most project an image of success at all times". You can tell, she is not happy with her marriage and starts to have an affair with the big boss of the real estate company. Again, seems horrible, but it helps her in the end. Annete was unfortunately robbed of an Oscar for this film.

The supporting cast: Thora Birtch who plays Janie, Lester and Carol's daughter, is extremely depressed and hates her body and herself. But when she notices a strange boy next door and develops a relationship with him, she realizes how precious life is and starts communicating with her family. Mena Suvari plays Angela, Janie's best friend, Lester's crush, and a girl who is clearly insecure despite her attempts at showing her sexy side to every guy in town. Wes Bentley plays Ricky, the next door neighbor boy who looks at something as simple as a bag being tossed in the wind as something beautiful. Some say that this was a very stupid scene, but I disagree. His dialog was perfect and made us look twice at something so simple. He won most of our hearts despite having somewhat of an arrogant attitude. Wes without a doubt got robbed of a nomination for this movie. Chris Cooper plays Ricky's father, Col. Frank Fits. He is a military Sergent who is very abusive to his wife and son and is an obvious homophobic that turns into an ironic situation in the end. Chris also should've been nominated.

The most stunning character actually to me was Allison Janney who played Barbara Fits, Ricky's mom, and Frank's wife. She was so beautiful and perfect. Her scene in the front room with Frank and Ricky, everything is so quite, and she says "I'm sorry, what?". Ricky says "Mom, no one said anything". When Ricky gets kicked out by Frank after a horrible accusation, Ricky says "Mom, I'm leaving". Instead of being like the average mom and trying to stop him or say things will get better, she knows this is best and says "OK. Wear a raincoat". Allison was just amazing and didn't get enough credit for her role.

If there could have been nominations for every role in this movie, they were well deserved. This is a terrific movie that should be watched by every adult. It'll make you look again at your life and think. What a great movie.

10/10
2001-08-14
Amazing, Extraordinary, Beautiful.
I found out about this film completely by accident but am so glad I did. I had seen the trailer and was not that convinced, what made me want to watch the film was the amazing soundtrack performed mostly by Thomas Newman.

I was completely hooked from the beginning and was not bored for a second. American Beauty really is a masterpiece and probably one of the best films ever to have been made. The film deserves a lot more credit for the storyline and was directed in an amazing way. Everything is perfectly timed and nothing drags along, it all fits together in a graceful yet unique way. The characters are all part of the jigsaw that the story unravels throughout the film to an exciting but shocking consequence.

10 out of 10.
2008-03-04
See Also
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