Projections - Movie Reviews

American Beauty

As Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and daughter Jane (Thora Birch) sit down to a perfectly set table in a flawlessly decorated dining room with music from South Pacific softly playing in the background, the dysfunction of Mary Tyler Moore's Ordinary People family, jumps to mind.  American Beauty is filled ironic laughable situations but not comedy, this a dead serious drama which exposes the facade of the American dream.

In the first scene Burnham announces he will be dead in a year.  Next he loses his job to an efficiency expert but not before he blackmails his boss into one year of severance pay with health benefits.  He leaves his office with a record box and a satisfied look on his face.  From there the story revolves around Burnham who lives in a marriage that has lost its imagination and is crushing a daughter.  Carolyn, who sells real estate, is no longer interested in sex with her husband but finds love with Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) the most successful real estate broker in town.  Lester's loss of work concerns her but he gradually begins to free himself from the self imposed chains which sixteen years at the same job created.

With no love in the house, Burnham becomes obsessed with his daughter's friend Angela (Mena Suvari).  On a climatic night he must decide if he will have sex with her.  His daughter must decide if she will run away with Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who has been beaten by his father Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper).  Colonel Fitts is moved to take action following a sexual mistake and Carolyn who has learned to shoot a hand gun is headed home ready to kill.

The rich script is filled with emotions and twists which continually rise to the surface.  Spacey turns in a powerful, interesting, creative performance; no one else could pull it off.  His eyes nearly spin when he first sees the sexy blond cheer leader, they are filled with anger initially and become loving and gentle as time passes.  Bening teaches us to hate her veneer while her heart breaks.  Bentley presents a cold robotic look as he passively defies his military father.  Cris Cooper (October Sky) in a supporting role as the militant retired Colonel, who expects perfection from his family, creates a stunning, chilling, powerful performance.

Director, Sam Mendes treats us to stunning images, dream like situations and a curdled reality.  We see the beauty of trash rising in the wind, the shock of Thora Birch growing up, Spacey ranging from near insanity to calm realization of life's values, a homophobic marine who has of limit desires, a housewife who is mentally abused, guns, potential attacks from three directions, a husband and wife who have drifted so far apart that sex in bed is alone, a little girl who wants to be desired by all men, a son who is seriously separated from reality by a stilted unbending father, a daughter who learns to hate before learning about love, red roses in a tub, dreams of sex, a perfect house with a dead lawn, a catalyst which brings results beyond its motivation, a man who suddenly knows when to stop and a shady lane where dark secrets are kept.

American Beauty, is filled with emotion but little joy, it pokes holes in the superficial American dreamers, the beauty of their perfection is seriously tarnished and Lester Burnham is only free when it ends.

American Beauty
A Top Ten pick for 1999

Home | Search | Reviewer Bios | Links | Mail Us
Copyright © 2005 Projections