Ricky (Bentley), Jane (Birch), and Angela (Suvari) in a promotional photoLester fantasizes about Angela

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American Beauty

American Beauty is a 1999 drama film that explores themes of love, freedom, self-liberation, family, and the American Dream. more...

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The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Cast

  • Kevin Spacey - Lester Burnham
  • Annette Bening - Carolyn Burnham
  • Thora Birch - Jane Burnham
  • Wes Bentley - Ricky Fitts
  • Mena Suvari - Angela Hayes
  • Peter Gallagher - Buddy Kane
  • Allison Janney - Barbara Fitts
  • Scott Bakula - Jim Olmeyer
  • Sam Robards - Jim Berkley
  • Chris Cooper - Colonel Frank Fitts

Plot summary

Lester Burnham (Spacey) is a 42-year-old man in a severe mid-life crisis. His fourteen-year career at a magazine is going nowhere, his perfectionist realtor wife, Carolyn (Bening), drives him crazy, and his angst ridden teenager daughter, Jane (Birch) barely communicates with him, simply writing him off as "weird." This, at least in part, is due to Lester's prior lack of attention towards Jane.

Things begin to change around the Burnham household, however, upon the arrival of their new neighbors, the Fitts. Colonel Frank Fitts (Cooper) is a stern, military man whose wife, Barbara (Janney), seems to be in state of domestic shell shock.

Their eighteen-year-old son, Ricky (Bentley), a boy obsessed with life and beauty, is a successful drug dealer with a penchant for videotaping everything, including Jane next door. Though wary at first, Jane finds Ricky interesting once she gets to know him, which disgusts Jane's typically gorgeous cheerleader friend, Angela (Suvari), who thinks Ricky's a pervert and an oddity.

Angela, who boasts to having slept with numerous men to further her aspiring model career, becomes an object of sexual attraction to Lester. She openly flirts with him, and his attraction to her is obvious and embarrassing to Jane.

In Ricky, Lester finds a kindred spirit whose carefree attitude about life and work — as well as the expensive marijuana Ricky sells him — causes Lester to change his outlook on life. Having successfully blackmailed his former company, Lester sets out to have a good time, not caring that his wife may be cheating on him with local real estate king, Buddy Kane (Gallagher).

Themes

American Beauty focuses on the themes of the disillusioned American dream by examining the materialistic nature of Americans and the emptiness of relationships. American Beauty also examines the nature of true beauty.

American Beauty establishes that Lester and Carolyn have worked to build a comfortable life for themselves and for Jane. The film examines the negative of this concept, for while Lester and Carolyn were busy building a comfortable life for themselves, they lost sight of what is truly important in life. They have become materialistic, illustrated in a scene where Carolyn and Lester are about to kiss and Carolyn ruins it by exclaiming “Lester, you’re going to spill beer on the couch!”

The film focuses on the empty relationships the characters have developed. Neither the Burnham family nor the Fitts family relate on a personal level. For example, in the beginning of the movie, Lester attempts to have a conversation with Jane about her life. Jane explodes by claiming that he suddenly began talking to her because he had a bad day. The movie emphasizes that people, so focused on keeping up appearances and acquiring commodities, no longer find time or purpose in relating to one another.

The film also examines the nature of true beauty, especially through the Ricky’s filming. Throughout the movie, Ricky claims that things that revolve around death or suffering are beautiful, such as a homeless person dying on the street, a dead bird, and a funeral procession. According to Ricky, the most beautiful thing he ever taped was a bag floating by itself in the wind.

Finally, American Beauty examines the theme of taking control of one’s own happiness. During the course of the movie, Lester realizes that he has no control over what makes him happy. He attempts to take control of this by quitting his job, beginning to tell his wife of his wants and needs, and smoking marijuana. Carolyn also re-examines what makes her happy. A woman initially wholly focused on business success, she finds happiness in an extra-marital affair and frequents a shooting range.

Read more at Wikipedia.org


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