Review: American Beauty

MovieSteve rating:
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


American Beauty – at Amazon



Leave a Comment

American Beauty (1999) Drama | 122min | 1 October 1999 (USA) 8.3
Director: Sam MendesWriter: Alan BallStars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora BirchSummary: After his death sometime in his forty-third year, suburbanite Lester Burnham tells of the last few weeks of his life, during which he had no idea of his imminent passing. He is a husband to real estate agent Carolyn Burnham and father to high school student Janie Burnham. Although Lester and Carolyn once loved each other, they now merely tolerate each other. Typical wallflower Janie too hates both her parents, the three who suffer individually in silence in their home life. Janie tries to steer clear of both her parents. Carolyn, relatively new to the real estate business, wants to create the persona of success to further her career, she aspiring to the professional life of Buddy Kane, the king of the real estate business in their neighborhood. Lester merely walks mindlessly through life, including at his job in advertising. His company is downsizing, and he, like all the other employees, has to justify his position to the newly hired efficiency expert to keep his job. Things change ... Written by Huggo


See all photos >>