American Beauty


Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by:Alan Ball
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Chris Cooper
Released: January 26, 2000
Grade: A

“I’ll be dead in a year ... but in a way, I’m dead already.”

Lester Burnham (Spacey) sees his life fading away.  Any respect his wife Carolyn (Bening) had for him is gone and he’s hardly spoken to Jane (Birch), his teenage daughter, in months.  For 14 years he has worked as a magazine writer under the facade that he actually enjoys what he does.

To help promote their “parenting image”, Carolyn drags Lester along to a basketball game to see Jane perform as a school cheerleader (although he’d rather be home watching a James Bond marathon on TNT).  Lester’s life is about to change.  Introduced to Jane’s best friend, Angela (Suvari), he finds himself uncontrollably attracted to her and stirs feelings inside him he thought were long buried.

To impress the object of his infatuation, Lester begins working out and starts living a more active life - as he says, “I have nothing to lose”.  His rejuvenation sets off a chain of coincidences and unusual events that will eventually lead to his demise, but by film’s end, he is ready for what awaits...

To give anymore away of this beautiful film would be unforgivable.  Not in such a long time have such deeply complicated people been created.  99% of movies these days feature stereotypical characters bearing little resemblance to any “real” human being.  American Beauty has seven leading roles that are all as unique and special as the people that surround us each day.  As the film progresses, we learn a little more about each one but every character is open to a wide interpretation and I’m sure there will be several you’ll relate to.

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening are marvellous as the sedated couple whose relationship unfolds as Lester transforms.  Rising stars Thora Birch and Mena Suvari are troubled teens, each trying to find their place in this world.  Chris Cooper is the strict next-door neighbour with his wife, played by Allison Janney, nothing but a ball of mystery.

The character stealing the spotlight is Jane’s boyfriend Ricky, played by Wes Bentley (in his first starring role).  His flawless performance makes his character very intriguing.  He provides the film’s signature line when saying “sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it.” – a line that best encapsulates what American Beauty is trying to say.

Executive producer, Steven Spielberg, came across first-time director Sam Mendes on Broadway and it’s a true delight to see a newcomer bring fresh insight onto the screen.  His powerful use of long-shots fading into close ups, dream sequences blending into reality, and most importantly his ability to keep the audience of their toes with carefully revealed plot twists, makes him a certain Oscar contender and solidifies a big future.  A stunningly different score from composer Thomas Newman deserves recognition.

From the very start we know Lester will die but American Beauty is not about where you end up but rather the journey you take to get there.  With remarkable direction, writing and acting there’s a lot of cinematic “beauty” on full display.  American Beauty - a comedy that pulls no strings and goes straight for the heart.