American Beauty (1999)
USA / English
"... look closer"Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis, decides to turn his hectic life around after developing an infatuation for his daughter's attractive friend.
Edgy sting with a bitter sweet aftertaste.
Ahh, suburbia. That manifestation of mediocrity and anonymity in this, our
Where else but in a typical SFR (single-family residential) nestled on a
typical tree-lined street in a
typical North American suburb can we find someone like Lester
Where else can the inspiration be found for a movie as ironically sublime
Burnham is a 42-year-old man who makes a living writing promotional
for a magazine that faces downsizing thanks to the excesses of his
He is married to Carolyn Burnham, a woman maniacally devoted to making it
big in local real
estate, and they have a daughter, Jane, who feels about as significant as
plankton floating about
the briny deep and about as attractive as a rusty Ford
About the only thing that keeps this family together is Burnham's
self-loathing and the mutual
hatred heaped upon him by the two women in the house.
We're talking about a guy, after all, who starts the morning by
in the shower. `This
is the high point of my day,' he says. `It's all downhill from
It's pretty obvious that the Burnhams have been somewhat dysfunctional for
few years now.
And there's no doubt that Lester is struggling with a mid-life crisis, one
that is expressed in more
than buying a sports car.
Things come to a head when Lester develops a lusty obsession for his
daughter's best friend,
replete with life-like dreams of seduction as she lies in a bath of rose
petals. Now Jane has to
worry about dear old dad `spraying himself' whenever she brings a friend
Meanwhile, Mom has started playing around behind Dad's back with a smooth
yet snake-like super
salesman, Buddy Kane. And Jane must come to terms with a rather unique boy
next door, when
some new neighbours move in.
When Ricky Fitts, the son of a homophobic military man and a robotically
devoted mother, isn't
dealing marijuana to people like Lester, he's video taping anything and
everything that remotely
interests him, and he's developing enough footage of Jane to fill the vault
at MGM. Needless to
say Jane is a little freaked about this headcase with an eye for the
As you've probably guessed, the humour can be pretty black in this movie.
Indeed, it may not be
for everyone, but any accusations that this movie is nothing better than
mean and cynical are
Instead, taking in American Dream is like biting into the fruit of
(a.k.a. the apple), the
edgy initial sting is followed by a bitter sweet aftertaste.
Matters are most assuredly helped by the casting of Kevin Spacey, the kind
of middle-aged guy
that every middle-aged guy would like to be, in the lead role. And Annette
Bening pulls no
punches as the self-centred career woman whose need to prove self-worth
knows no bounds.
Indeed, everyone in this movie fits the bill perfectly, right down to the
manager of the local Smiley
Burger (Dennis Anderson) that Lester turns to for a job after he more than
refuses to toe the
In its own way, American Beauty is a humourous tale about a man who finally
decides to come to
account for his `silly little life' on his own terms regardless of what
means in appearances.
And while the price is heavy, Lester comes out a true hero.
As ironically uplifting as it is caustic and acerbic, American Beauty, to
use the cliché of enthralled
reviewers everywhere, is a must-see movie -- especially for anyone who has
wisdom to know that no matter how old you are, there's plenty of life left
that's worth living, and
plenty of growing up still left to do along the way.