American Beauty (1999 movie)
This article is about the 1999 film. For other uses of the term American Beauty, see American Beauty.
American Beauty is a film, directed by Sam Mendes, that won five Academy Awards in 1999, including Best Picture. The social satire depicts a not-so-typical family with a sarcastic wife, an angry, rebellious husband, a teenage daughter, along with a number of other strange characters. One of the more well-advertised themes was the infatuation of the main character with his daughter's schoolfriend. The movie also deals with love, success, perversion, and fear. Ultimately, this is a movie about discovering your place in the world.
The movie begins with Lester Burnam - who is dead - describing his just-past life as a forty-something man living somewhere in suburban America who is unsatisfied with his life. He experiences a total change after he becomes infatuated with his daughter's school friend, Angela, a young woman eager to show off to her classmates just how beautiful and sexy she is. Part of the change is helped by him rediscovering his youth through exercise and smoking marijuana, bought from a drug dealer, a young man named Ricky Fitts whose family has moved in next door to him recently. Quitting his job (and blackmailing his boss for $60,000), he takes up a Mcjob at a small drive-through restaurant (Mr. Smiley's).
Meanwhile, Carolyn (his wife), a sarcastic woman who loves power, begins an affair with a local real-estate magnate (Buddy Kane). She is later discovered when her husband catches her kissing Buddy while the two are at Mr. Smiley's.
On the opposite side of the house, their other neighbors are in fact a normal gay couple, one half of which is played by Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula, who are friends with Carolyn and occasionally exercise with Lester when he is getting in shape. They are relaxed and relatively unaffected by the ongoing drama.
At about the same time, Jane - their daughter - falls in love with Ricky. The two of them eventually decide to elope when Ricky's harsh dad, Colonel Fitts, seeing Ricky and Lester together, mistakenly thinks that they are having a sexual relationship and kicks his son out of his house (it is implied that Col. Fitts may be a repressed homosexual himself). On that same night, Angela and Jane have a fight ; Angela runs into Lester and the two of them almost make love. As a father, Lester realizes how big a mistake he would be making when Angela reveals that she is a virgin. The movie ends with Lester being killed out of misplaced anger (hence his state at the start of the movie). Who did it.. the jaded children, exhausted with their absent parents? His wife, tired of trying to 'fix' him? Angela, for inexplicable reasons? No.. it is their neighbor, Colonel Fitts.
There is a hint of recursion in the story - Ricky resembles a younger Mr. Burnam in many ways. This is further strengthened at the end, when Lester - after dying - uses Ricky's words ("there is so much beauty in the world ...") to describe how he sees the world.
The movie Fight Club explores similar themes of the American dream and challenging societal norms. The main character in Fight Club, like Lester Burnam, is displeased with his current lifestyle and begins participating in illicit or counter-cultural activities. He also blackmails his boss for a few years pay. Both films end with a crucial destructive event that nevertheless leaves the viewer optimistic about the future.
- Kevin Spacey (Lester Burnam)
- Annette Bening (Carolyn Burnam)
- Thora Birch (Jane Burnam)
- Wes Bentley (Ricky Fitts)
- Mena Suvari (Angela)
- Peter Gallagher (Buddy Kane)
- Allison Janney (Barbara Fitts)
- Scott Bakula (Jim, the Burnams' gay next-door neighbour)
- Sam Robards (Jim, the above-mentioned Jim's partner)
- Chris Cooper (Colonel Fitts)
- Best Picture (Bruce Cohen , Dan Jinks )
- Best Actor (Kevin Spacey)
- Directing (Sam Mendes)
- Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Alan Ball)
- Best Cinematography (Conrad Hall)