American Beauty (The Awards Edition) [VHS]
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From its first gliding aerial shot of a generic suburban street, American Beauty moves with a mesmerizing confidence and acuity epitomized by Kevin Spacey's calm narration. Spacey is Lester Burnham, a harried Everyman whose midlife awakening is the spine of the story, and his very first lines hook us with their teasing fatalism--like Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis, Burnham tells us his story from beyond the grave.

It's an audacious start for a film that justifies that audacity. Weaving social satire, domestic tragedy, and whodunit into a single package, Alan Ball's first theatrical script dares to blur generic lines and keep us off balance, winking seamlessly from dark, scabrous comedy to deeply moving drama. The Burnham family joins the cinematic short list of great dysfunctional American families, as Lester is pitted against his manic, materialistic realtor wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening, making the most of a mostly unsympathetic role) and his sullen, contemptuous teenaged daughter, Jane (Thora Birch, utterly convincing in her edgy balance of self-absorption and wistful longing). Into their lives come two catalytic outsiders. A young cheerleader (Mena Suvari) jolts Lester into a sexual epiphany that blooms into a second adolescence. And an eerily calm young neighbor (Wes Bentley) transforms both Lester and Jane with his canny influence.

Credit another big-screen newcomer, English theatrical director Sam Mendes, with expertly juggling these potentially disjunctive elements into a superb ensemble piece that achieves a stylized pace without lapsing into transparent self-indulgence. Mendes has shrewdly insured his success with a solid crew of stage veterans, yet he's also made an inspired discovery in Bentley, whose Ricky Fitts becomes a fulcrum for both plot and theme. Cinematographer Conrad Hall's sumptuous visual design further elevates the film, infusing the beige interiors of the Burnhams' lives with vivid bursts of deep crimson, the color of roses--and of blood. --Sam Sutherland

Customer Reviews:

  • Seems like the perfect life. But look a little closer...
    American Beauty (1999) Lester and Carolyn Burnham seem to have it all: a nice house, two well-paid jobs, a couple of expensive cars, and a beautiful daughter. But as is so often true in these modern times, a lot of dysfunction hides behind the mask of happy normalcy.
    In truth, Lester (Kevin Spacey) is going middle age crazy, pining for his carefree youth and making goo-goo eyes at his daughter's Lolita-like best friend. Carolyn (Annette Bening) has discovered that "having it all" isn't nearly enough; she throws herself into her real estate job to try to compensate. And the daughter is going through that economy sized variety pack of teen angst, ranging from insecurity to parent loathing. Add in a set of new next door neighbors with their own problems (Dad's a bigoted ex-Marine; Mom's a zoned out space case, and son is a fairly creepy video voyeur); stir them all together well, and you have the perfect recipe for suburban disaster.
    Director Sam Mendes, writer Alan Bell, and especially the actors make the most of this dramatic black comedy. The mix is perfectly realized, with laugh out loud scenes that nonetheless have a sense of tragedy and doom about them.
    Writer Ball has a background in sitcoms, so it's no surprise that ther is a lot of sharp tongued verbal byplay. More surprising is how well a thirty-four year old director can guide his actors through the minefield of fortysomething neuroses. But then, you don't hire actors like Spacey and Bening because they'll do a mean karaoke at the wrap party. Spacey is as excellent as he is expected to be, and he is matched scene for scene by the slightly underrated Bening. The rest of the cast lend fine support, with newcomer Wes Bentley standing out.
    This is a quirky, somewhat unusual film, with a few stylized fantasy scenes that add to the flavor overall. If you enjoy such productions, this is definitely a good choice to sink your teeth into. Also with Peter Gallagher (Summer Lovers) and Chris Cooper (Lone Star)....more info
    After watching this movie, it became an instant classic in my movie collection. How could ordinary life be so enthralling ?

    The characters are represented perfectly, and the story couldn't have been told any better.

    The genre for this movie is drama.

    If you haven't seen American Beauty, you're missing out. ...more info
  • all hail alan ball
    it should be no surprise that this is one of the greatest films ever made; just look who wrote the screenplay. that's right, alan ball,
    who also created the greatest television series of all time, "six feet under." coincidence? i think not.
    mr. ball will have a new series premiering on hbo(too good to be television) called "true blood" in autumn 2007....more info
  • Extarordinary
    American Beauty is a film for which "extraordinary" is a weak description. It deals with so many issues of life for people of many ages.

    It teaches us that life is full of beauty in so many forms, even the sexually repressed gay, yet homophobic, U.S. Marine Colonel, who in his rage somehow seems beautiful, too. It is so because he is so much alive. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) must become alive to see that there is "so much beauty in the world," and, once Lester is alive again, he dies.

    Annette Bening's character is still becoming alive, but not completely yet, when the film ends.

    The young man who is always filming people leaves his family which he must, yet still loving his angry father. Will the young man's mother be the next person to become alive again?

    We most likely will never know the answer to that question....more info
  • Excellent, Great, Convincing movie!
    This movie is really great. It doesn't seem much like a best picture movie, but who cares, it's an awesome movie! It is very disturbing, depressing, and serious. It's supposed to be a comedy-drama, but if you ask me, it's mostly a drama, not to say it isn't funny, it's just very serious, especially at the end. They said before I saw it that the movie would get stuck in my head for days. It concerned me forever. Of course, they said the same thing for Million Dollar Baby, but that didn't concern me that much, that is, not as much as it would've if I haden't seen Scary Movie 4. But still, those who haven't seen this movie, see it, it's a great best picture movie. The acting is great, Kevin Spacey won an oscar for it. The actors, such as Chris Cooper, are very convincing in the movie. The movie is dark, depressing, and disturbing. I know i've already said that, but it's just so true, still, it may spook you, not that it's a horror, it is, however, very, well, you know, but it's still a very good, dark film, so give it a chance....more info
  • One of the best movies ever made . . .
    This movie starts out as just another crude comedy. But . . . look closer . . . and you'll see that it's many things . . . I'm not even sure how to describe it, what genre to put it in. But I would say it's one of those movies that, if you stick with it through the first half, which is mainly just for laughs, you will be greatly rewarded by the end. The last ten minutes or so of the movie are absolutely beautiful . . . ponder the title of the movie as you watch it . . . and your perception of what it means will change drastically as the film goes on. Full of surprises.

    ...more info
  • Beautiful Funny and Sad
    It's a great film. The word beautiful in the title
    is very fitting. Personally it's the best Kevin spacey
    film I've seen. Very sad how his death could have
    been easily avoided and funny how he solved his mid-life
    crisis it's a great film and I highly recommended it....more info
  • It's all in the title
    The title says it all. America's paragon of beauty is a self-absorbed nymphette, or a frustrated matron's petal-deep rose by the same name.

    Although all the characters in this film are existentially tormented, there is a clear division between those who get it and who don't.

    The "it" is our innate separation from the rapture of merely being alive, captured here in a grainy video of a plastic bag blowing in the wind, but commodified for most Americans by a Barbie-doll culture where the culmination of life means being desired, or acquiring what you desire.

    Mendes is telling us, a little heavy-handedly at times, that being in the 'burbs isn't what blinds you to being truly alive. It's your lack of imagination that will get you in the end.

    Such is the human condition: At our most comfortable are we most tormented. At least those who "get it" will perceive the vapidity of America's depraved idea of beauty....more info
  • Still Hollywood, but Enjoyable
    American Beauty kind of reminds me of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. Althought not as split evenly, and it definitely has less detractors, American Beauty is thought as either deep, provocative, and wickedly funny, or a grating, unrealistic, fake portrayal of family life, that plays out like a sitcom. Now, I am not one who automatically plays the Ghandi, being a neutral leader in the middle, somewhat frowning at both, but I'm really torn on this movie. It just does so many things right, but at the same time, does a lot of things wrong as well.

    First off, the acting in this movie is terrific. Kevin Spacey deserved whatever awards he got for best actor. Sometimes funny, emotional, perverted, sick, frightening, angry, and sometimes even all at once, his talent definitely shows. Chris Cooper plays the sadistic Colonial Fitts, and he does a great job showing how insane and mean he can be. The first time he beats the crap out of his son, I was pretty shaken up (note maybe it comes from having a father similar to him some ways). Those actors impressed me more than the others, although everyone else does fine jobs as well. And really, I give props to all the actors for kissing one another (especially Chris Cooper and Kevin Spacey). Remember, they have to be convincing with their kisses (and probably had to it more than once!). It's sometimes just fun to watch for the acting alone, even if I don't exactly agree with some of the story.

    However, while the plot is not too bad, the movie has a big tendency to fall into the pretentious. I mean, while sometimes I ACTUALLY DO feel there is so much beauty in the world (especially in nature), I do not think a plastic bag is a thing of beauty. The bag metaphor is just laughable. I agree that the slogan "Look Closer" is arrogrant as ______, too. If you don't get it, you aren't deep enough, and you need to look closer or else your a fool. Give me a _________ break. That is just ridicolous. The characters on here really aren't as profound or realistic as you think, pretty Hollywood, and embody some stereotypes. The closeted homosexual, really, who didn't see that one coming?

    Still though, while not deep, and definitely not a realstic portrayel of Suburan life really (I don't buy it, besides, how would the screewriter's know, did they study the suburbia beyond their own home? Probably not). The characters still are likeable, if a bit unrealistic. The plot is fine, so leave it alone.

    Don't believe the hype on this one for the most part, but I still reccomend watching it for sure. I still think that if you watch it without expecting yourself go into introspection (yeah right), you will enjoy it. You may love it, you may hate it, but you should definitely watch it.

    Also, the Boston Celtics logo rip-off is probably the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. Give me a break. Can you at least rip the logo off of the Sacramento Kings or the Los Angeles Clippers, or even the Utah Jazz (Lakers 4-0 in round one!)? Celtics deserve more respect than that (I'm a Lakers fan, but respect Boston anyway).

    B-...more info
  • artistic attack on middle class values
    This is a good film and and I would like it except for two things: The title and the fact there was nothing to feel good about in watching this film--it was depressing. It is a not-so-subtle attack on middle class American values and institutions. Targets are the American Military, Marriage, gun ownership, corporate America/capitalism, consumerism, traditional morals and sexual mores etc....The only thing the writers left out was religion--none of the cast of dysfunctional people were church going christians. I am sure this was a oversight. The title was off putting because it suggests that Americans have empty, dysfunctional, meaningless lives. This film is a left-wing diatribe with a social agenda to bash american society using many liberal cliches and unlikable, one-dimensional characters. Maybe I read too much into it.

    The only semi normal, healthy people were the two gay neighbors; everyone else is a mess. Of course, the worst writing came with the new family next door with the father being a Marine Colonel. He was portrayed as a domineering man incapable of expressing his feelings and love for his family. He imposed harsh discipline and physical abuse for even minor infractions. Of course he had a large gun collection and Nazi memorabilia. His disdain for his gay neighbors is on complete display and of course we find out that this disdain is only there to hide his own latent homosexuality. How tiresome! The realtor/wife of the main character builds confidence and feels "powerful" by learning to shoot a gun. The only semi-likable character is Kevin Spacey's who is a guy in a mid-life crises brought on by his own sexual frustration and infatuation with---the friend of his daughter. He quits his job, and tells off those corporate creeps. He black mails them into a year's salary. We are supposed to feel okay about that because they deserve it. Then he pursues and seduces his daughters best friend. In the process he buys the car he wanted as a teenager, starts smoking pot again and listens to rock music. The only redemption for him comes at the end when he doesn't go through with the little affair he had been planning--but he comes awful close. The message of this film is: don't be uptight-express your feelings, smoke pot and have sex. Sounds a bit like turn on, tune in and drop out. A classic film for 60's rejects.

    The artistry in this film comes in the way it is told on the screen. It moves along at a nice pace and keeps you off-balance and guessing. There are a few poetic scenes when the neighbor boy and son of the marine talks about his desire to film and his contemplation of beauty, which gives the film its title. I don't care to see it again....more info
  • American Beauty
    This is one of the best American movies of the last decade, and I'm glad I own the "awards" version. This movie deserves all the awards it won....more info
  • not my genre
    I really liked "existentialist" lit and those Russian literary genres (pathetic character dramedy) when I was a teenager but can no longer stomache them. I never cared for the work of Kaiser Soeze. I find mid-life crisises to be a boring subject. Many of the details are absurd and hard to swallow. I'm not a fan of fractured plots esp. plots that start with the ending - what could be more played out? starting with the main characters death is not new or clever (like in "The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas"from the 1800s -or a more direct cinamatic comparison "Sunset Boulevard" with the main characters voice over and sympathetic conclusion to the love triangle before the big finale).

    But I do appreciate that amalgam of literary, theatrical and clean cinematic/TV writing styles that went into the story. And I liked the look of the film. I'm sure it deserves all it's praise....more info
  • A dreary story well told
    American Beauty is superbly performed and technically excellent. Despite this, I didn't care for it when I saw it in a theater.

    I decided to view it again to see if time would give me a different perspective. Nope. This tale about empty suburban lives still disappointed me. Examining how people can break out of a mind numbing rut can be illuminating and even entertaining, but every character choose a path that would only lead to aggravating their personal problems. Selfishness and death are substitutes for boredom, not solutions.
    Lying, blackmail, drugs, infidelity, fantasies about statutory rape, gay bashing, and reckless behavior grow weary. The only moral act in the film seemed so fleeting that the viewer is left unsure if it had any liberating value.

    I found the characterizations fascinating, but, in the end, I didn't care about any of these people, which made it hard to connect with the film. I also have a more optimistic view of life. Disregarding the dreary storyline, American Beauty rightfully appeals to enthusiasts who appreciate art in filmmaking. Oh yeah, and city-dwellers that need to feel superior to their suburban cousins.
    ...more info
  • Not an "American" issue...
    I enjoyed all the feedback and interesting comments and points of view about the "issues" this movie conveys. But a sad truth that we all seem to miss is that the United States is a huge country with people from many different races and cultures all mixed and blended together. Add to this mix a society and culture that thrives on materialism and self-centeredness and you have what American Beauty attempts to communicate and raise our awareness about.

    Needless to say, this movie does not portray an "American" issue, it effectively raises our awareness that IT IS a world issue because of the fact that most nations around the world make up what we like to call our "American Society and Culture." I DO agree with Mrs. Walker when she stated, "'s a sad day when a movie likes this says something this important about who we are as a culture. A sad day indeed..." People like to say that this movie displays an "American" issue and it thrashes its culture, but it is a sad world out there where all nations and cultures have been "sedated" with its own desires for personal gain and power. BUT, thank the Lord that there is still "good" out there, around the whole globe...but we are just too "blind" to see this subtle beauty that surrounds us daily...
    ...more info
  • American masterpiece.
    This film is not to ordinary people! It is a film to the same people capable of understanding films like "Blade Runner", La Dolce Vita, Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and others masterpieces. It is a film to people capable of discerning between something good and bad, people that read truly good books and listen to truly good music. "It is not to people that like films with Chuck Norris, Jennifer Lopez, and Madonna, and consider both Sylvester Stallone and Madonna respectively the best actor and actress ever". When I saw this film for the very first time I recognized immediately his value, it is a portrait of a complete alienation of the modern life where the next step is just stay acting all the time as if the life was a "B film" with a very poor script indeed, and the worst thing is that you look at your side and see that everybody has been acting the same "B film" with the same poor script. What happens in this case is that the character of Kevin Spacey discovers one day this reality and tries to recover the meaning of his life, but he knows that this means to get away from this style of living, just getting rid of the life he has been living for years and this is not an easy thing to do. Watching it is like to be put in front of a big mirror. Soon people around him start to react against his sudden liberty and their final achievement is to eliminate him as a kind of a vengeance, because his real liberty was too aggressive to their hypocrisy. In the end he is assassinated for the same reason those "two bikers were assassinated in the film Easy Rider", because he is "Too Free" and has been showing to the others their futile and useless way of living. Is a very courageous film. Bravo, The script is terrific, "and some scenes are pure poetry". It is sad to read reviews of people saying that don't like this film because of some sexual scenes, in a country that is the major producer of pornography in the whole world, what is the prove that this film is right, we have to change this society immediately. ...more info
    Although AMERICAN BEAUTY boasts one of the finest casts in recent memory, and Sam Mendes direction was flawless in this superb film about disparate, disjointed mid-America, Alan Ball's script is the true star here. The dialogue is so crisp, and ascerbic that at times it's hard to realize how 'human' and incredibly moving some of the scenes were, because only a moment before you were laughing at the absurdly, seemingly irrelevant incongruities in one dysfunctional character, or another , or perhaps the edginess of the previous satirical situation, and though this was not as disturbing as David Lynch's vision of suburbia ( BLUE VELVET ), it was much more moving. This movie should be in any serious film collection....more info
  • Sticks With You
    Watched this movie for the first time last night. I found the movie to be haunting in that it reflected my life and I would imagine a great many other's lives. We spend our life chasing money, status, the perfect home and career and somehow we lose ourselves in the process, and when we finally end up with what we have been working so hard to obtain all these years, we find we are empty, bitter shells of what we once were. A very eye opening movie for me. ...more info
  • Absolutely Amazing
    This is one of my favorite movies and it gets better each time you watch it. You can identify with some of the characters in the movie and although it is dark and sad, it has a moral to the story and the ending was just amazingly done. Even though your sad for the main character, you still realize that his life had finished in a weirdly positive way. Hence the smile at the end. I highly recommend this movie. It should be in everyone's DVD collection and is one of those movies you can watch over and over again without getting bored. And it is not entirely always dark. There is comedy woven into the movie as well. Again, one of the best Kevin Spacey movies ever....more info
  • Perfect ain't so perfect.
    Lester (Kevin Spacey) is middle aged and living what on the outside looks like a perfect life. Big house in a nice neighborhood, 2 cars, pretty wife and daughter, and a good job. But on the inside, he's miserable. His job sucks and he has to answer to a younger boss that hasn't even been there a few months. His wife is cold `b' and doesn't even want to have sex with him. His daughter hates him for reasons unknown. And he just really doesn't even like himself that much either. Then one day, he goes to a basketball game with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) to watch his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) do her performance in her cheerleading squad. That day changes his life on the spot. He sees Angela (Mena Suvari), Jane's friend, out on the court also, and he realizes his life is in a rut and he wants to be free from it. He quits his job and starts to work out again (mainly to get Angela's attention). He sells his car to get the car of his dreams. And he starts to smoke pot.

    Luckily his new next door neighbor, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) is a pot dealer. Not only a pot dealer but a weird documentarian that goes to school with Jane. Ricky's dad is a tough father who is also a homophobic Colonel in the marine corp. He loves his son, but sure doesn't know how to show it correctly. Though Ricky and Jane start to like each other, the interactions between Ricky and Lester leave the dad to wondering what is really going on between the two.

    Carolyn, though a coldhearted `B', used to not be what she is today. She was once a fun loving free spirited girl, but Lester has no clue where that girl went. She's so wrapped up in her real estate business she doesn't even think of Lester anymore. Her arch nemesis in the biz is Buddy Kane, and even though she tries her best to beat the man, nothing works and it makes her incredibly stressed out. As Lester is trying to work out his mid-life crisis, his wife Carolyn is working out her stress in a much different way.

    American Beauty is such a great movie. The way it looks into the soul of the normal suburbanite family is really funny and great. Nothing is perfect no matter how it looks. Somedays I really feel like Lester even though I'm not married or have kids. Where I'm just stuck doing the same thing every day and then `BAM', I go a little crazy and break out of that shell. I've even quit my job before because of this. Thank God to, because now I'm much happier. Though you can't help but feel bad for Lester. At least I do. He did so much to support his family, to have them only hate him in the end. Sure he's not always there for his daughter, but that's no reason to be hated. She actually joked about killing him. Seriously... what the heck. Her life could be a million times worse. And his wife, ugh, I'm not even going to go into it. How a woman could do what she does to him is ridiculous. And even though Ricky Fitts is friggin crazy, he's still a cool character. I don't buy into that whole `deep' and `emo' stuff he says about floating bags and dead people/animals, but how he's so blunt about things makes me really like that character.

    In the end, I would definitely watch this movie. Such a great story, and such a sad ending.

    P.S. - I really hope Angela was 18.
    ...more info
  • Heavy Irony on Amazon
    I'm always surprised by how many people do not appreciate this movie. The reasons people give for not liking it ARE OFTEN INCREDIBLY IRONIC.....think about it.

    The movie says that morals (and pretty much everything else in life) are relative and subject to being perceived in every possible way...

    Hell, Shakespeare said "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." -Hamlet

    Society is often so focused on nonsense that we all accept it without really stopping to think.

    People read beauty magazines so they think people will love them more, and in turn people loving them will make them love themselves (Caroline). Many women have ingrained themselves so strongly in this that eating disorders have become a rampant problem in the U.S. With television shows like "The Swan," "American Idol," and who knows what's no wonder this is the case.

    Who says that smoking marijuana is "bad?" Who says that being fat is "bad?" Who says that being a homosexual is "bad?" Who says that never being afraid of anything is "bad?" In fact, why are we all so afraid of everything?? WHO is telling us to always be afraid? I think this is a very very important question in today's society.

    Who says that a bag floating in the wind (litter) is necessarily "bad?" To really be content in life you have to perceive "reality" the way you want to. Not the way people (and the media) tell you to.

    The fact that Lester Burnham chose to work at a fast-food restaurant, smoke pot, and lust after an underage girl (was she under 18?) is irrelevant.

    He could have done anything other than what he was doing. He could have chosen to get up and follow his dream of starting a business, take over the world, become a monk in the mountains...IT DOESN'T MATTER. Was what he really did that "bad?" That's what made him content because that is the role HE WANTED to play in this world, but never had the guts to actually play out for himself.

    If you've seen Fight Club the concept is pretty much the same (also came out in 1999, coincidence?) I like Fight Club, but this movie is much better. I believe Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) makes a statement like, "People do it everyday. They look into the mirror and see the person they'd like to be, but don't have the guts to run with it like you did."

    The point is that THIS is what LESTER wanted to do. NOT Caroline, not his boss, and most importantly NOT SOCIETY.

    Of course there are limits to this. Hurting people is never a good route. I doubt the movie was advocating people with the dream of being a serial killer to become a serial killer...Though of course Shakespeare's quote also applies here. Think about it...

    The movie is saying that people need to stop being robotic automatons and become the person that they want to be, not what everyone else "thinks" they should be.

    THINK. It's the greatest gift you'll ever have....more info