American Beauty (1999)
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening
Thora Burch, Mena Suvari

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is going through his mandatory, bourgeois, mid life crisis.  He hates his life, and his life hates him back.  His teenage daughter Jane (Thora Burch) hates him because he lusts after all her school friends that she brings home.  His career driven, automaton, wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) hates him.  And his new streamlined “accountant” boss is threatening to fire him.  So as he explains nonchalantly, in the voice over, the highest point of his day is masturbating in his morning shower, “it’s all down hill from here”.

Soon after Lester is obliged to turn up at his daughters cheerleader try out, which he does not want to be present at, and which his daughter does not want him at.  But whilst there he is immediately drawn to his daughters friend Angela (Mena Suvari), blonde, attractive, and at the head of the cheerleader group, and loving all of the attention.

He stares at her throughout the trial, and from here on he cannot take his eyes, or his mind off of Angela.  And so with this wet dream revelation, and at Angela’s teasing off him, he quits his job, starts talking back to his control freak wife, finds a job in a burger bar (a job he had been happy at when he was a young man) and starts pumping that rusty old iron.  Carolyn starts having an affair with her mentor.  Jane gets involved with the drug dealing, obsessive video camera guy next door, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bently),  who’s father is an irrational, repressed, bullying colonel (Chris Cooper).  Jane then starts to plan her fathers’ death, as he is just so embarrassing with all his drooling.

Lester finds out about Carolyn’ affair, but seems unsurprised and undisturbed.  Jane and Ricky  plan to leave town after the Colonel beats up Ricky for what he perceived was a homosexual encounter between him and Lester.  The Colonel attempts to confront Lester also, but just ends up embarrassed and vengeful.

Not the usual route for an American mid life crisis, which is a nice change.  No spiritual hippie retreats.  This time the wife is the one having the affair not the husband, even though it is his crisis and his story we are supposed to be viewing.  Instead we get the middle-aged man obsessing over the Lolitaesque Angela, the friend of his typical parent-hating daughter.

But still there are a few staples to be expected.  The girl, whom is perceived as the school slut, is the complete opposite.  The repressed army man, who, with all his Nazi “gay bashing” is obviously going through a sexuality crisis of his own.  The daughter who hates her life partly because she considers herself unattractive, but when the new guy comes to town is helped to see this is not the case.  As he wishes to have a relationship with her, rather than the projected facade of the head cheerleader Angela.  And all of these staples are pretty obvious from the first appearance of each of the characters.

Spacey is brilliant as the downtrodden spiritless (to begin with) Lester, and even with his desires for Angela, you still sympathize with Lester.  But part of that may be because we know deep down that Lester is going to let Angela remain a fantasy.  That he is not actually going to make love with her, even though for a second he is not sure, we are.  Him making love with Angela would have made it a very different kind of movie.  So straight from the sale of the film we know Angela is only going to be Lester’ fantasy.

Annette Bening does a wonderful and psychotic portrayal of a bourgeois suburbanite Lady Macbeth.  Career driven above all else, even above her marriage and her family.  She cannot go any further in her pursuit of success with her lackluster husband, and so searches out a new partner to help her with her desire for power.  It is a pity that like Lady Macbeth she has to latch onto a man to realise these dreams.  Yes OK she is attracted to him also, but is this really her only way of reaching her sought after position in this business?  By sleeping with the guy that is at the top?

Review By Giovanni Pistachio, Giovanni can be contacted at: – 



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