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AMERICAN BEAUTY

SYNOPSIS:
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just moved next door to the Burnham's with his father (Chris Cooper), an ex-Marine corps Colonel, and his emotionally withdrawn mother Barbara (Allison Janney).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 film is solid gold. Laugh, cry and be mesmerized: American Beauty is a film you'll not want to miss. From the attention-grabbing opening through the maze of wonderful moments, here is a special film that not only explores beauty, but tosses the notion of 'ordinary' high into the air, then allows our preconceptions to dissipate, like a dandelion in the breeze. The combined considerable talents of acclaimed English theatre director Sam Mendes and television writer Alan Ball have created a marvellous work: biting, fresh direction and a script that is the epitome of good writing. All the characters are so well developed, that as Quentin Tarantino said (talking about his Pulp Fiction characters), they could all be the stars of their own movie. Add to this mix the extraordinary talents of Kevin Spacey (who delivers pure screen magic, with impeccable comedic timing and presence), and you know that this is something special. Spacey is an extraordinary actor he of the deeply etched dimple epitomises everyman, yet in such an individual way. The spontaneity of the scene when Carolyn discovers Lester and Ricky smoking a joint outside is a joy. Annette Bening's Carolyn prickles with suburban pride and ambition; Mena Suvari is a perfect precocious teen goddess; Thora Birch is just right as the vulnerable teen; Ricky Fitts is impressive as the edgy neighbour, whose vision of beauty defies boundaries. There's nothing worse than 'ordinary' we are told. So what is 'ordinary'? Is it the army obsessed colonel who despises faggots? Is it listening to elevator music, while going through the motion of a forced, boring dinner and life? When Bening screams with anguish, she could be screaming for all the characters and for all of us watching. Like crossroads at an intersection, the story lines come together in a final, breathtaking climax, rivaling that of The Ice Storm. American Beauty is a bewitching story about dreams, beauty and the tangled labyrinth of life."
Louise Keller

"American Beauty is the best film of this year and just about any year. What's even more remarkable about this superb slice of suburban life is that it comes not from the indie scene but carries the banner of Dreamworks Pictures, the studio founded by Hollywood major players Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. American Beauty dares to explore what beauty is in the eyes of its characters, all of whom are struggling to find the courage simply to carry on. It's an utterly captivating journey in which the achingly funny and deeply moving exist side by side. Sam Mendes, an acclaimed theatre director making his first film, insisted on a long rehearsal period (most films go into production without rehearsal) and the results pay off brilliantly with a collection of characters so well drawn we feel we already know them - at least on the surface. Mendes' background pays off spectacularly in the performances he elicits from a cast turning in uniformly outstanding work. Kevin Spacey's comic timing as he drools over Angela turns Lester into character of Nabokovian dimensions, Annette Bening is a materially fixated suburbanite dealing badly with her crumbling comfort zone and Thora Birch and Wes Bentley are tremendously moving as the alienated results of their parent's lives. Beauty arrives in unexpected places here and the expertly controlled manner in which it's revealed makes us want to laugh and cry at the same time. Many films set out to explore what it takes to find personal freedom; few do it in such funny, beguiling and truthful ways as this unforgettable film."
Richard Kuipers

"Behind every suburban door is a volatile world on the edge of self destruction. Either that or American Beauty has isolated a single case. Unlikely. The film plays like reading a book, mostly (but not only) because of the narration of its central character, taking us into his world - even after he has departed this world. The recognisably and achingly real world that the writer, the director and the cast present on the screen is at once discomforting and comfortable. The former for confronting honesty, the latter for acute but non-judgmental observation. The nuances have the greatest impact, the humour is like palliative care for the dying and the blackness of the subject matter oozes with the complexity of love and hate in a single glance. Kevin Spacey is riveting and haunting as the man in the middle of a vortex that wont let him go, an everyman yet unique, a failure who succeeds in the one thing that matters: he retains a single ounce of decency. If it were not for that, American Beauty would be ugly. Adorned with the irony and pathos of life, American Beauty is a shattering yet enormously entertaining and witty work, destined to be a classic. And for those who have the stomach for it, have a go at back to back viewing of American Pie with this film. You may find that cinema - American cinema at that - is not just a wimpy sausage factory; it can indeed have a caustic, invigorating edge. And lots to think about."
Andrew L. Urban

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with
SAM MENDES

FEATURE

See our DVD REVIEW

Read our SOUNDTRACK REVIEWS

Best Film - Drama, Golden Globe Awards, Jan. 23, 2000

AMERICAN BEAUTY (MA)
(US)

CAST: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Chris Cooper, Scott Bakula, Sam Robards

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

PRODUCER: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks

SCRIPT: Alan Ball

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Conrad L. Hall A.S.C.

EDITOR: Tariz Anwar, Chris Greenbury

MUSIC: Thomas Newman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Naomi Shohan

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal International Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

VIDEO RELEASE: (Sell-through) March 7, 2001







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