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American Beauty

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: American Beauty

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: May 1999
Genres: Drama, Comedy


*Also starring: Mena Suvari, Thora Birch, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Sam Robards, Barry Del Sherman, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper



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Review by GaryW
3½ stars out of 4

American Beauty begins by introducing us to what appears to be a rather ordinary middle-class suburban American family. This family consists of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and their daughter Jane (Thora Birch). As the movie ads say, we should "look closer", and when we do, we see some very unhappy people. Lester, who provides the narrative throughout the film, has an unfulfilling job and marriage and he and his daughter barely speak. The status quo is disrupted when, due to downsizing at his job, Lester decides to make some real changes. These changes all basically involve him acting like a stereotypical teenager-- even to the point of working at McDonald's, doing drugs, and lusting after his daughter's beautiful, but brainless, friend Angela (Mena Suvari). Because we are made to sympathize with Lester early on, we are clearly on his side even though he is acting quite against acceptable social norms. Many of these scenes are extremely funny, which lightens the mood of the film considerably-- this film could have easily been a very, very, dark movie.

Although it initially appears as if Lester is going to be the main character in the film, a lot of screen time is spent developing the many relationships in this complex drama: Lester and Carolyn, Lester and Angela, Jane and Angela, Jane and Ricky (the strange boy who moves next door), and Ricky and his marine father. It is quite interesting that the character who is the most stable and happiest is a drug dealing, physically abused, teenager, who is almost overwhelmed because there is so much beauty in the world.

This film works in many ways. It is stinging social commentary, good comedy, and interesting piece of drama. Also, the cinematography and many intriguing dream sequences enhance the movie. The acting is also exceptional. In particular, Kevin Spacey is getting a lot of good press (most of it deserved) and will probably garner an Oscar nomination for his effort. This film is definitely worth seeing.

Although I liked the film very much, and think it is easily one of the best films of the year, I think there are several flaws that prevent it from being a masterpiece (which many reviewers seem to think it is). Although most of the characters and relationships are interesting, many of them were not very developed and also quite cliche'd. I think the film may have been better off ignoring one or two of the relationships and spending more time on the others. I also found that Lester's behavior, that was very funny for the majority of the film, eventually became a little annoying. Also, the film is a little heavy handed in delivering its message.

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