American Beauty (1999) – Film Review

American Beauty

Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, and Thora Birch

Directed By Sam Mendes

IMDB Rating: 8.4

American Beauty is an older yet classic satire-like look at the middle class suburban lifestyle and all the secrets that come with it.

Lester Burnham is a middle aged office worker who narrates the story and takes us through the day in the life of his average day spent with his stuck up real estate agent wife and angsty teen daughter. Lester has a midlife crisis and strikes up a fascination with his daughter’s friend. We get a real look at not only the angsty teen life, but also into the life of the new neighbor who films Jane from his window. The story takes several different turns and it’s always interesting to watch.

The story is really creative – especially back in 1999 when not so many lines were crossed in the film world. You’d think it’d be gross to have an old married man fantasize repeatedly about his daughter’s friend, but it somehow manages to work. It isn’t this steamy forbidden love affair- it’s much deeper than that. We get to see many different points of view and see how each character is making it through each day.

The film was casted perfectly. Much of its magic comes from the actors. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Lester Burnham besides Kevin Spacey. Initially, DreamWorks wanted to cast a bigger actor like Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner, or John Travolta but Mendes wanted a smaller actor because he didn’t want a big actor to “weigh the film down” or anything of the sort. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for this role and rightfully so. He brings to life all the sadness and loneliness this character feels. Annette Bening tows the line between finding the right character to just being a parody. She sometimes takes it over the top completely. The character is meant to be mean but sometimes she is so messed up that you just have to laugh at it. Thora Birch is realistic as the angsty teen. I was really impressed with Chris Cooper in this movie as well.

Sam Mendes won Best Director back in 1999 for this movie and it’s not hard to see why. He brought to life the screenplay written by Alan Ball really beautifully. This movie has a lot to do with the visuals and I think Mendes did justice to that. He focuses on all the important overarching themes in this but he also leaves much of the movie open to interpretation. It’s well put together and very artistic in every area. I think he made many wise decisions as a director which is in part why the movie works so well.

There’s a reason why this movie won Best Picture back in 1999. The story is so much more than an old guy having “an affair with his teen daughter’s friend”. Narrowing the plot down to something so simplistic in false is not doing this movie the proper justice. It’s a movie about reality, loneliness, secrets, truth, lies, and accepting beauty in everything. And I think it’s a movie that still holds truth and accuracy years later.

Review written by Rachel Geiger

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