American BeautyOctober 1, 1999
Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis, decides to turn his hectic life around after developing an infatuation for his daughter's attractive friend.
Release Year: 1999
Rating: 8.5/10 (392,840 voted)
Critic's Score: 86/100
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch
Lester and Carolyn Burnham are on the outside, a perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood. But inside, Lester is slipping deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression. He finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter's friends. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is developing a happy friendship with a shy boy-next-door named Ricky, who lives with a homophobic father.
Col. Frank Fitts, USMC
Barry Del Sherman
Sale House Woman #1
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… look closer
Release Date: 1 October 1999
Filming Locations: 11388 Homedale Street, Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $861,531
(19 September 1999)
Did You Know?
Wes Bentley was the first actor to read for the part of Ricky, and was asked to do the scene where he describes his reaction to the plastic bag; the casting director felt that although she had read that scene numerous times, his reading was the first time she felt she understood the meaning of it.
Incorrectly regarded as goofs:
When Angela and Jane are outside the school talking to Ricky, there is a shot in which the filter of Angela's cigarette is visible, and it's clearly white. As the cigarette is half-smoked, it should be brown from the tar. However, this could be deliberate as it could be that Angela and Jane are not really smoking and just trying to look cool.
I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek-boy who's gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school. What a lame-o. Someone really should just put him out of his misery.
Want me to kill him for you?
Yeah. Would you?
Entertaining and Thought-Provoking.
Of the 250+ films I've seen and rated on IMDb, only one other
(Schindler's List) is as good as American Beauty. A film like this not
only entertains while you're in the theater but also drops subtle
questions in your head about the nature of human behavior and the gulf
between fantasy and reality. After watching this movie, viewers will
think long and hard about their own lives as well as the lives of
people around them. The movie spells out the social disillusionment
phenomenon everyone experiences but can't really grasp.
American Beauty reminds us that, like Lester, we really have no idea
what we really want. We're not rational creatures as economists assume
we are. Our instinct might lead us to perform one action, yet our
brains might tell us to perform the complete opposite. We may lust
after material belongings, yet how do we know we will still treasure
those material belongings once we obtain them? Lester may lust after
Angela, yet once he feels her in his hands and finds out the truth
about her sexuality, an entirely different feeling comes over him.
Ricky Fits, the drug-dealing boy next door, is able to look beyond
conventional notions of attractiveness and find beauty in
non-promiscuous, solemn girls as well as in plastic bags floating in
the wind. When many criticize the movie, they say, "Where's the beauty
in a plastic bag?" And that's the point. We live in a world of
aesthetic subjectivism. What one person finds attractive, another may
find repulsive, yet the urge is there for people to assume aesthetic
absolutism. "It's just a plastic bag! How can there be beauty in it?"
Well, a human being is just an aggregation of tissues, bones, and
blood. How is that attractive? It depends on how you look at it.
Reality is shaped by perspective.
Some people criticize the Ricky Fits character because he records his
life experiences on tape and doesn't actually experience them. But time
moves inexorably in one direction. Time cannot be stopped. In a
physical sense the past and the future don't exist. We are only
conscious in the present. Everything we do, everything we achieve,
every bit of happiness we experience — they are all eventually buried
in the past by time. Recording subjective beauty is a means by which
one can attempt to salvage beauty from the past into the present
because time eventually destroys all beauty. If you don't believe me,
walk into a pre-school and then walk into a nursing home. Remember that
all the old men and women in the nursing home were once little kids.
Another profound element of American Beauty is in the tag line: look
closer. An individual's behavior is not independent of his environment.
Humans are conformists by nature, and humans will modify their behavior
to assimilate into existing social categories. If any individual dares
to stray from the category to which he has been assigned, he is shouted
down and ostracized. No one can resist the urge to conform, so why
bother? Everyone is nice in public, yet on the streets they blare their
horns, scream, and swear. Some boys I know pretend to hate American
Beauty because on the surface it seems like a "chick flick." They force
themselves to watch gory horror movies and show off to others how they
can stomach intense violence and excessive sex scenes. In American
Beauty, Angela acts like a total slut, as many girls seem to be
nowadays. In the end, however, she is not what she makes herself out to
be. Colonel Fits tries to act like such a man, yet in the end it's all
just a giant facade. Civilization is but one giant movie, and members
of society must start acting their parts if they want to belong to this
civilization. Otherwise, they're outsiders. Try walking into a job
interview without a tie. You'll be thrown out. That is the power of
What if I asked you this question: What do you want in life? Most
people would say, "happiness." But is happiness worth deluding yourself
for? Carolyn Burnham shields herself from sadness by adopting a
positive-thinking philosophy, a philosophy of self-affirming mantras
and harsh self-discipline. Positive thinking may help you attain your
goals, but positive thinking also blinds you from reality. Is it wise
or moral to change the channel when you hear about mass starvation in
Africa so you can enjoy moments of fleeting happiness from a cheap
romance movie? Self-help is just a euphemism for self-deception. All
humans need some complex fraud to distract them from the harsh and
nihilistic realities of life, whether it's religion, money, or even
In spite of American Beauty's greatness, there are problems. Characters
are stereotypical, but viewers will hardly notice unless they're
ultra-critical. Anyway, exaggeration is essential in satire so that
certain points are made obvious to viewers. Furthermore, Alan Ball's
original screenplay is slightly edited. The ending is more optimistic.
Problems aside, Sam Mende's debut movie is one of the greatest I've
seen. Not only is it entertaining but it is also filled with
interesting ideas. It's an important film for society because there's
so much society needs to learn. One boy I knew refused to watch
American Beauty because, as he said, "I'm not gonna watch a movie with
a name like that!"