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American Beauty

A movie directed by Sam Mendes

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For the love all things beautiful...

  • Sep 17, 2011
**** out of ****

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is facing a midlife crisis; as many men in the movies have before (and after) him. He doesn't have a healthy relationship with his wife Carolyn (Annette Benning) or even his teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Not to mention, he finds his job to be crappy; as if he's trapped in a world which he cannot escape. This is sad. The entirety of "American Beauty" is, in my image, sad. Why so many people quote the little "funny" lines present in certain points in the film is beyond me, considering this is not a straight-forward comedy, but rather a satirical drama that does not poke fun, but rather it makes commentary, which is much smarter, far riskier, and much more impressive.

Here's a truly great movie. There are too many of them to count; but this is nearly life-changing. How such a brilliant screenplay, tackling such challenging subjects, could have been made in the first place is beyond me. I guess geniuses work in the dark and eventually release some of their stuff to the public. This couldn't have been made, or written, by someone residing elsewhere than the darkness. The film studies the science of loneliness, the philosophy of desire, and of course, the beauty of life and death. The film goes to places that few films I have seen have gone; but that's what I appreciated about it. I was given new view-points and new ways to think about its themes. That is excellent filmmaking and even better writing. Most good films can make you think. But only the great ones can truly stick with you afterwards.

I've already told you about poor old Lester's situation, which, if you are observant and take the time to notice, will get even more complex as I go on-and-on about this absolutely fascinating film and its completely intoxicating story. Lester finds even more problems in romanticism, when he is smitten with a friend of his daughters, the beautiful Angela. He has bizarre, surreal, whimsical sexual fantasies about this young woman, since his own wife won't give him the tender love or pleasure that he requires to survive through the rest of his life. It's apparent that Lester would rather not live at all as opposed to not having sex ever again. He wants Angela; and he will get her, whatever it takes.

Meanwhile, Jane is intrigued by a new neighbor in the form of a young, quiet gentleman by the name of Ricky (Wes Bently), whose father (Chris Cooper), is no better than a homophobic, stereotypical has-been U.S. Marine Colonel. The father is retired, angered; bored. The son is ambitious and makes use of his video camera, which he most likely bought from the proceeds which came from his only business; dealing marijuana. He sells some to Lester early on in the film.

You see, what I liked about the film was that it created realistic characters and realistic situations. It never sunk into petty melodrama; it always felt...real. There's humor to match the drama even at the most awkward of moments, and it's almost always morbid or dark, but I'm appreciative of that; and I admire such stylistics. Each character is insecure about their selective lives, and they attempt to change them, no matter how many times they fail. I've done this. I'm sure you have too. It's screenplays like this, screenplays that can truly touch the heart and stay there forevermore, that deserve all the awards and the praise. This is one of the best films of all time, for its exploration of depravity and isolation in suburban neighborhoods, school-yards, side-walks, and yes, even dreams.

The director of the film is Sam Mendes. This film earned him much praise and respect. In spite of his writer, Alan Ball, taking a lot of the credit (with all due respect) for the film; he actually does some pretty unique and interesting stuff here. He gives the film its own style and feel; using moody cinematography and music to create an unexpected sense of atmosphere. For some reason, I was expecting an all-out comedic affair, but Mendes makes it something much, much more. He's as much of a storyteller here as Ball, or anyone. Why wouldn't he be? Directors make movies what they are. The writers are the ones telling the story; the filmmakers are the ones listening to it, with a childlike fascination.

A film that deals with themes of sexuality, depression, and depravity isn't going to appeal to all audiences. However, I think there's a part of all of us that wants to explore a film like "American Beauty" and seek out its very own whimsy. The film was in touch with its emotions and sense of humor at all times; and so was I. I cared about the characters, I cared about the dreams. What didn't I care about? There wasn't one thing not worth mentioning. Kevin Spacey gives what could very well be his best performance yet; an entertaining tour-de-force courtesy of his own wit and style. The supporting cast is fantastic, and the commentary that each character brings to the table is intelligent. If the film is a satire of middle-class men and women, then it's a pretty darn good one. As of now, I want you to discover it for yourself. It's a great movie with great intentions, and I think you're going to love it; so I will stop right there. Just keep in mind that there can be farce in tragedy; and even tragedy in farce. And let's not forget beauty.

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More American Beauty reviews
Quick Tip by . September 19, 2010
Years later, this seems a little dated and it is hard to see how new and exciting it was for viewers. The acting by Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning is reliably excellent. But it seems as though there is not much "there" there.
review by . March 02, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
First-time filmmaker Sam Mendes has won the hearts of critics and audiences alike, in what some are calling the most extraordinary cinematic directorial debut since Orson Welles' Citizen Kane in 1941. Sam Mendes' film, American Beauty, is a modern masterpiece and one of the seminal films of the last few decades. Mendes, who is perhaps best known for his revival of the stage production of Cabaret, brings all of his theatrical sensibilities to the screen and in doing so he has actually expanded the …
review by . May 28, 2009
Writer, Alan Ball's (of Six Feet Under & True Blood fame) first theatrical script blurs those stereotypical slow death in suburbia lines and keeps the viewer off balance throughout the entirety of the film.      This film, is, above all, a deeply moving drama. The suburbanite, highly dysfunctional, Burnham Family is sad, enchanting, sickening, wonderful, confusing, tragic, abhorrent, and every other adjective listed in Websters. That is precisely what makes this film …
review by . December 17, 2008
This movie is truly one of the greats!  Kevin Spacey does an excellent job as being a middle aged men going through a mid-life crisis.  His family is pretty dysfunctional and he's really trying to find his place within his family.  His infamous line "I Rule!" is the best and is such a perfect line for the movie.  Annette Benning plays his wife whom is also very unhappy in her marriage and seeks out a colleague for support.  This is one of her best performances.  Their …
review by . February 15, 2006
Think about it, what makes this film the best of 1999 is the acting. Kevin Spacey shines as Lester Burnham, and Annette Bening (Carolyn Burnham) isn't far behind. Supporting cast members such as Wes Bentley (Ricky Fitts), Thora Birch (Jane Burnham), Mena Suvari (Angela Hayes), and Chris Cooper (Col. Frank Fitts) only adds to the drama of this film. I think the most special aspect of this film is how all of the characters intertwine in a way that is believable, yet fantastic at the same time. I congratulate …
review by . May 06, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
Writer, Alan Ball's (of Six Feet Under fame) first theatrical script blurs those stereotypical slow death in suburbia lines and keeps the viewer off balance throughout the entirety of the film.This film, is, above all, a deeply moving drama. The suburbanite, highly dysfunctional, Burnham Family is sad, enchanting, sickening, wonderful, confusing, tragic, abhorrent, and every other adjective listed in Websters. That is precisely what makes this film a true "one-of-a-kind". Mr. Lester Burnham (Kevin …
review by . April 02, 2000
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Great story and acting     Cons: None     What happens when an American Family melts down? The viewers of this film get an inside glimpse into a typical American family dealing with sexuality, monogamy, mid life crisis, teen angst, career highs, women as breadwinners, drugs, and the rest of the topics that we all deal with in our own everyday lives.      The acting is superb and the characters engrossing. The filming technique was …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


AMERICAN BEAUTY tells the story of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a suburban father who snaps when he becomes disgusted with his stale, repetitive existence. Burnham lets us know in voice-over from the film's opening that this is the day he dies (using the SUNSET BOULEVARD flashback approach), a technique that adds an inevitable tension to the proceedings and keeps the story moving forward at all times. On a whim, Lester quits his job and begins a regression into young adulthood, lifting weights, smoking pot, doing nothing, and discovering the overflowing sexuality of his 16-year-old daughter's best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), has her own midlife crisis of sorts. A real estate agent, she experiences a youthful awakening when super-agent Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) seduces her repeatedly. Meanwhile, Jane (Thora Birch), the Burnhams' daughter, is pursued by Ricky (Wes Bentley), the mysterious boy next door who carries a video camera around with him at all times. When ...

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Director: Sam Mendes
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Mystery, Romance
Release Date: September 8, 1999; September 15, 1999
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hrs 0min
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