Review - American Beauty

Mena Suvari in American Beauty

Mena Suvari as the fantasy babe bathing in roses in American Beauty



London theatre director Sam Mendes’s debut as a movie director has been treated by some critics as if it were a missive from the gods. Perhaps it was the opening scene which showed Kevin Spacey jerking off in the shower which did it for them – so bold, so adult. The film locks straight in to a long line of suburban dystopian drama and hangs its story off the jowls of Spacey, playing the worm that turned, the comfortable middle-class corporate Joe who chucks it all in for the easy release of drugs and sex after he becomes infatuated with his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari). His wife, meanwhile, is filling in the odd minutes she has left over from giving too much of herself to her job as a realtor by embarking on an affair. His daughter, also, is up to something she shouldn’t, with the strangely stalkerish boy next door (Wes Bentley). Whatever you think about the film, there is no doubting Spacey’s performance – it is a humdinger. Spacey squeezes the script to bulk out a character who is, on closer examination, one-ply. The other characters, too, verge on the one-dimensional. But are Annette Bening the wife and Thora Birch the daughter deliberately so thin – for some sort of comic effect, or are we watching artless caricature? The settings, dreamily photographed by Conrad Hall, are worryingly familiar too. Depending on inclination, or mood, they might seem necessarily sketchy, to allow the plot to unfold and the drama to take flight. Or on another day completely unrealistic, a fragile chimera only there to be knocked down, in order for the drama to claim some spurious victory – yay, suburbia vanquished! Is it Noh theatre? Or just a case of no drama? That’s, perhaps, the beauty of American Beauty.

© Steve Morrissey 2000


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imdb poster American Beauty
American Beauty (1999)
Run time: 122 min
Rating: 8.5
Genres: Drama
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch
Trivia: 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.
Storyline 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. Written by Jessie Skinner <>
Plot Keywords: infatuation, friendship, fast food restaurant, love, lust
Box Office Budget: $15,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: £425,558 (UK) (28 January 2000)
Gross: AUD 11,029,726 (Australia) (15 December 2000)