American Beauty (1999) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexuality, violence, and drug content
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, CHris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Scott Bakula, Sam Robards, John Cho
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Alan Ball
Review published September 9, 1999
Lester Burnham (Spacey, The Negotiator) hits his midlife crisis when his job is in jeopardy, his wife (Bening, In Dreams) won't have sex with him, and his daughter (Birch, Clear and Present Danger) despises him. His new neighbors include an ultra-rightwing nut (Cooper, The Horse Whisperer) and his dope dealing son (Bentley, Ghost Rider) who has an annoying habit of filming everything, mainly Burnham's daughter, with whom he is obsessed. Lester makes an attempt to take a fatherly interest in his daughter, attending a home game where she is cheerleader, and discovers he has the hots for his daughter's best friend (Suvari, American Pie), opening the floodgates to what he has been missing. Lester decides he will go back to that which made him happy as a young man, quits his job, encourages his wife's affair, smokes lots of dope and pumps iron to impress his underage beauty.
American Beauty is an incredible debut for first-time director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Jarhead) and first-time screenwriter Alan Ball. While promoted as a comedy, and it does have some truly hilarious moments, this is profoundly compelling material with much going on under the surface. Spacey and Bening are phenomenal in their roles, with a great supporting cast, including Birch and Bentley as the daughter of parents that don't care and the son of a father that cares too much.
American Beauty is extremely well-crafted across the board, with numerous moments of greatness. Probably the most tragic of funny films since The Graduate. Or is it the funniest tragedy?
©1999 Vince Leo