Magazine writer Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his real estate agent wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) lead a materially comfortable but emotionally barren life in the suburbs, with their disillusioned teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). The appearance of Jane's school friend Angela (Mena Suvari) sends Lester into paroxysms of lust and inspires him to quit his job and lead a carefree life. Meanwhile Carolyn falls for the charms of rival realtor Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) and Jane becomes involved with the mysterious, video camera-wielding Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who has just moved next door to the Burnham's with his father (Chris Cooper), an ex-Marine corps Colonel, and his emotionally withdrawn mother Barbara (Allison Janney). These suburban lives are all emotional timebombs.

This is a film in which the details count for a lot.

In American Beauty Kevin Spacey gives a graceful, nuanced performance as Lester Burnham, a person at burnout stage in his life. He hates his job, his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) despises him and so does his daughter Janie (Thora Birch). The vision that catapults him out of his coma of depression is Janie's cheerleading classmate Angela (Mena Suvari). He quits his job, wangling a $60,000 payout, buys a red convertible and decides to tell the truth as he sees it.

This funny bleak suburban scream of anguish is the work of two first-time filmmakers writer Alan Ball – who concieved Cybil for television – and director Sam Mendes, who's established a terrific reputation in the theatre with productions of The Blue Room and Cabaret. The writing is acidically amusing without ever trying to conceal the loneliness at the heart, the direction a perfect frame for the characters and the wonderful performances that create them. This is a film in which the details count for a lot.

David's Comment: A very fresh, acidic film which David Lynch might have directed – all about the horrors lurking behind all those suburban picket fences. Intelligent, witty, beautifully shot for the widescreen, a remarkable debut by British stage director Sam Mendes. Flawless performances, with Kevin Spacey especially memorable.


Watch this interview with Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey


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