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American Beauty (1999)
Drama
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.
Kevin Spacey Lester Burnham
Annette Bening Carolyn Burnham
Thora Birch Jane Burnham
Wes Bentley Ricky Fitts
Mena Suvari Angela Hayes
Chris Cooper Col. Frank Fitts, USMC
Peter Gallagher Buddy Kane
Allison Janney Barbara Fitts
Scott Bakula Jim Olmeyer
Sam Robards Jim Berkley
Barry Del Sherman Brad Dupree
Ara Celi Sale House Woman #1
John Cho Sale House Man #1
Fort Atkinson Sale House Man #2
Sue Casey Sale House Woman #2
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Bruce Cohen,Dan Jinks
Writer: Alan Ball
Edgy sting with a bitter sweet aftertaste.
Ahh, suburbia. That manifestation of mediocrity and anonymity in this, our post-industrial society.

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 Burnham?

Where else can the inspiration be found for a movie as ironically sublime as American Beauty?

Burnham is a 42-year-old man who makes a living writing promotional material for a magazine that faces downsizing thanks to the excesses of his superiors.

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 Pinto.

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 masturbating in the shower. `This is the high point of my day,' he says. `It's all downhill from here.'

It's pretty obvious that the Burnhams have been somewhat dysfunctional for a 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 home.

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 visual.

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 simply unfounded.

Instead, taking in American Dream is like biting into the fruit of knowledge (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 company line.

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 that 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 acquired enough 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.

Personal
Seen it:Ja
Nr of disks/tapes:1
User credit 1:1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
User credit 2:956
Storage device:Divx 4
Loan
Movie
Imdb rating: 8.5
Musician: Thomas Newman
Running time: 122 min
Technical
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Last modified: 2008-01-02 14:16:48