American Beauty (1999)

8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, strong cast

Script sometimes thinks too much of itself

Movie Info

Movie Name:  American Beauty

Studio:  Jinks/Cohen Company

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  September 8, 1999 (Premiere)/September 17, 1999 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R


I rule!

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is trapped in his humdrum life.  His marriage to Carolyn (Annette Benning) is faltering, and his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) doesn’t want anything to do with him.  When a new family moves in next door, Lester’s life begins to spiral out of control.  Lester decides to enjoy life and that means a change…he begins lusting after his daughter’s friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), smoking pot, and working fast food.  Jane meanwhile has begun a relationship with the neighbor Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who has his own problems and is dealing with his abusive and controlling father Marine Corps Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper).  Carolyn tries to increase her business and finds joy in an affair with Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) the King of Real Estate.  Lester will be dead in a year…it is only a matter of who kills him.



Directed by Sam Mendes, American Beauty garnered wide acclaim when it was released.  The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography with nominations for Best Actress (Benning), Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.  Despite the wide accolade, American Beauty is often listed as one of the most overrated films of all time.

I loved American Beauty when I first saw it.  It was new, different, and despite being rather mainstream it was halfway challenging.  While it still does have these strong themes, I do recognize it is rather pompous and at points way overblown.  It is one of those movies that either hits or misses with the audience.


Seems like everyone wants Kevin Spacey

The problem with American Beauty is that it does try very hard.  It tries to mainstream an artistic picture.  The story sometimes feels unbalanced, and I have a hard time determine who (if any) of the characters you are supposed to like.  Spacey is a rebel, but he’s also over-the-top abusive to his wife and child at points and for an adult to return to being a slacker doesn’t seem that admirable.  Bentley is like the bad art student that thinks more of himself and his work than it really is…but the movie presents it in a way that it is good…so I think we’re supposed to really think he’s artsy (he isn’t).  It is rather ironic and probably intentional that the only happy people in the film are the gay couple played by Scott Bakula and Sam Robards.


This better not be the movie you invited me to watch…

Both Spacey and Benning are good maniacal characters.  I don’t think they play very realistic characters, but they are memorable.  Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari feel like they don’t go past a WB drama in their acting level.  It is acceptable but not the best.  Allison Janney and Chris Cooper play the even more dysfunctional couple, and Cooper in particular is good near the ending.

The movie looks fantastic.  The style and skill of Mendes is one of his best attributes.  I don’t care what picture he’s working on, Mendes always brings style and class to it.  Be it the roses or simply the display of the mundane nature of American suburban life, American Beauty does look great and continues to be one of the more visual movies from the period.


My superpowers is that I can make roses erupt out of my chest!

Though I do struggle with American Beauty, the last few minutes of the film still offer redemption.  I like some of the reflection by Spacey upon his death and what life really means…it feels more genuine than a lot of the script.  The visuals for this moment are also really strong and how the moment is perceived by the characters is also good.  I always felt that there should have been a long “afterwards” where the truth comes out, but the movie chooses to end it when it ends…I admire it for that but it can also be frustrating for some.

American Beauty feels like an intro to art pictures.  It is easy to debate and analyze, and I feel I’ve kind of out grown it (which sounds almost as ego filled as Bentley’s character).  I just think there are better, deeper pictures which deal with the same subject in better ways.  That doesn’t mean I am dismissing the film or those who like it, but I think for me the “Beauty” is over.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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