American Beauty

  • Film
20 Love It

After 14 years working in the same office, Lester Burnham (Spacey) is about to get canned. After two decades married to the same woman, he can't stand her any more. Carolyn (Bening) is no more fond of him. And as for their daughter, Jane (Birch), she's just dying from the embarrassment of it all. And so the worm turns. Quitting his job, he takes stock of what he's lost, and he begins to bench press, smoke pot and have fun flirting with Jane's best friend, Angela. It might be madness, but at least he can look himself in the mirror without cringing. The best reviewed movie of 1999 (and winner of five Oscars) is a polished and acerbic social satire with 'countercultural' tendencies. What does Lester do but 'turn on, tune in, and drop out'? Admittedly, he's not necessarily heroic; in fact, the real hero of the piece is his neighbour's teenager, Ricky (Bentley), and the real villain is Ricky's father (Cooper). Having established a recognisably droll, sardonic voice in Spacey's narration, Alan Ball's screenplay tempers biting wit with unexpected compassion for even the most obnoxious characters. Director Mendes guides an artful path between desire and self-disgust, playing youth against experience, male against female. It's a shade too pat to be truly revelatory (and as a suspense film it's frankly unconvincing), but it repeatedly transcends its apparent limitations to insist, after Arthur Miller, 'attention must be paid'.

Release details

Duration: 122 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: Alan Ball
Cast: Kevin Spacey
Annette Bening
Thora Birch
Wes Bentley
Mena Suvari
Peter Gallagher
Allison Janney
Scott Bakula
Sam Robards
Chris Cooper
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