Release Date: September 15, 1999
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning,
Scott Bakula, Peter Gallagher,
Thora Birch, & Wes Bentley
Runtime: 118 minutes
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Bruce Cohen & Dan Jinks
Writer: Alan Ball
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As the credits begin to roll, a rebellious teenage girl named Jane Burnham (Thora Birch) tells a video camera that she hates her dad because he is a geek, who wets his pants every time he sees one of her girlfriends. The operator of the camera, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), asks her if she wants her dad dead. She says yes. The next shot is a suburban neighborhood where the Dad, Lester Burnham, in voice-over, says that he is going to be dead within a year. Lester (played by Kevin Spacey) is in the shower arousing himself.
Lester is experiencing an early mid-life crisis. The new efficiency manager at the advertising firm where he works tells him in so many words that his job is on the line. His wife, Carolyn (played by Annette Benning), dominates him and only wants success and fortune. Carolyn is a real estate agent and is enamored with the local king of real estate, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). She envies Buddy's success in selling neighborhood homes. Daughter Jane dislikes both her parents.
To try to build a bridge to her daughter, Carolyn drags Lester to a basketball game where Jane is cheerleading. Lester would rather be home watching James Bond in TNT until he sees the lead cheerleader, Angela (Mena Suvari), whom he immediately visualizes seducing him. Suddenly, Lester has a new lease on life. After the game, he makes a fool of himself talking to Angela.
Caroline drags Lester to Buddy Kane's Christmas party. Caroline both envies and adores Buddy. Lester decides to step outside with one of the waiters to smoke a joint. The waiter is Ricky Fitts who has moved in next door. Ricky not only sells dope, but he also videotapes the Burnham family from next door. His strict moralistic father, Col. Fitts, has driven Ricky into some weird personality directions.
The pot smoking sets Lester free. He decides to take charge of his life and blackmails his boss into paying him a year's salary plus severance. He takes a job as a short order cook at a fast food restaurant and starts working out so that he can appeal to Angela.
Jane meanwhile falls for Ricky. Col. Fitts violently beats his son Ricky a couple of times and suspects Ricky is a homosexual or doing dope.
Carolyn decides to have an affair with Buddy Kane. Buddy says there is only one thing better than sex, and that is shooting a gun. So, Carolyn takes up shooting a gun at a local range.
All of this comes to a head on the day Lester is shot after trying to fornicate with little Angela.
Filled with violence, sex, adoration of drugs, and rebellious attitudes, AMERICAN BEAUTY is bad news. It perverts everything that is beautiful into ugliness. Masturbation is extolled, drug use is promoted and pedophilia is condoned. Morality in fact is denigrated and demonized. For example, the representative of traditional values, Col. Fitts, turns out to be a child abusing, suppressed homosexual killer.
Everything else about this movie is also warped and perverted, especially the ending where Lester dies and seemingly goes to heaven after indulging in every sin, including blackmail and adultery. The only bright spot in this miserable scenario is when Lester decides not to fornicate with little Angela. Otherwise, every message in this movie is immoral or condones immorality.
AMERICAN BEAUTY is a perverse attack on the good, the true and the beautiful.