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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | American Beauty 1999
Directed by : Sam Mendes
Written by : Alan Ball
Starring : Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Wes Bentley, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Allison Janney

Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:
darkly comic, serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: / 5 

Plot synopsis Lester Burnham has a lovely, perfect house in the suburbs, a beautiful, successful wife, and a teenaged cheerleader daughter. His life is completely miserable. He hates his job, and both his psycho-neurotic wife Carolyn and sullen daughter Jane make no secret of the fact that they think he’s a complete loser. Which may be the one thing the two agree upon. With Carolyn wrapped up in her real estate business – and an affair with real estate king Buddy Kane – and Jane undergoing the usual teenage self-loathing and parental rebellion, the Burnham family only looks perfect on the outside. Then one night, in the unlikeliest of places, Lester’s life takes a sudden turn. At the half-time show of a high school basketball game, he sees Angela, a sixteen-year-old Lolita and his daughter’s best friend. She’s the most exquisite being he’s ever seen in his life, her youth and beauty a symbol of everything that’s been missing in his very pathetic life. For Lester, it’s a revelation. Ditching his job, and gleefully re-embracing all the things from his youth that once made him happy – a cool car, good pot, rock-n-roll – Lester gives his life a makeover.

Review It’s a rare movie indeed that can make you laugh hard, think deep, feel intensely sad and sublimely happy all at once. American Beauty, which manages to accomplish all that and more, is nothing short of amazing. What at first appears to be a biting, dark comedy about suburban dysfunction is in fact something much more interesting, a meditation on life and death, love and family, and above all, the meaning of beauty. That you don’t realize how complex the story is until long after the movie has ended is a reflection of how expertly the movie is crafted: the acting, the direction, the cinematography, the music all work together seamlessly to suck you into this hyper-real little cinematic world. Each of the major characters is, of course, beautifully rendered and completely compelling. There’s the Burnham family: Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham, who’s so much more than just another unhappy pervert lech undergoing a pitiful mid-life crisis, Annette Bening’s image-obsessed, unintentionally cruel wife and mom, and Thora Birch’s wonderfully awkward Jane, whose cynicism and contempt are a just a thin veneer on her achingly-apparent insecurities. There’s Mena Suvari’s Angela Hayes, who’s so afraid of her inner plainness that she’s completely obsessed with her outward beauty. And then there are the Burnhams’s neighbors, the equally dysfunctional Fitts – Chris Cooper’s abusive, homophobic military dad, Allison Janney’s psychologically-damaged, submissive wife, and Wes Bentley’s Ricky, a drug-dealing high schooler who just may be the most admirable character in the entire film. It’s a sad, lonely place that these characters inhabit, where families hide their inner uglinesses behind gourmet meals and magazine-perfect décor. But the beauty’s there too, for those who know to look for it – and with the help of talented director Sam Mendes and his phenomenal cast, we’re lucky enough to get a glimpse. —reviewed by Y. Sun   

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