Copyright 1999-2003 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

Bams' review of
American Beauty


American Beauty (1999)
Rated R; running time 119 minutes
Genre: Drama
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Alan Ball
Directed by: Sam Mendez
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Chris Cooper, Allison Janney, Scott Bakula, Sam Robards

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

It's a good thing that I didn't see American Beauty when it was released back in October; I would've had a hard time choosing between it and The Green Mile for 1999's "Best Of". As it is, I'm having a dickens of a time making my personal Oscar pick between them.

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Residents of Plastic Suburbia, U.S.A. populate American Beauty...

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a fortysomething burnout whose highlight of the day is the time he spends with himself each morning in the shower, feels as trapped by his now-loveless marriage to his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) - a mediocre real estate agent who can't quite see past the plastic liners on her furniture, her house, and her life - as she feels trapped by him. Lester seeks a new life through rebuilding his body through exercise, as suggested by gay lovers Jim (Scott Bakula) and Jim (Sam Robards) - arguably the most "normal" residents of their little villa. Carolyn, meanwhile, seeks mentorship, and a wee bit more, from real estate king Buddy King (Peter Gallagher). Equally trapped in their misery is their daughter Jane (Thora Birch); and as if normal teen angst wasn't enough for her, she also has to deal with her father's men-o-pause attraction her very blonde (and she knows it) cheerleader friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).

And, behind door number two...

...the Fitts are Watchers Of Life: dope-dealing loner Ricky (Wes Bentley) watches Jane and her family while he tapes them via camcorder; bulldog Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) watches son Ricky turn into a zombie under the Colonel's cold, austere regiment; and all-but-braindead mother Barbara (Allison Janney) watches life go by in a haze of her own non-existence.

True poster families for Dysfunctions R Us.

While I may have not seen The Insider until its Oscars re-release because, well, I didn't want to, my reasoning for missing American Beauty the first time around is much less harsh: I simply forgot to, until it was too late. This is to my deficit - because "Beauty" lives up to its hype.

There's little doubt that these are people you wouldn't normally want to associate with everydaycbut in fact, probably do. "Look closer", indeed: is flabby, unmotivated Lester really unlike sloppy Joe-down-the-street? Doesn't Carolyn remind you of that obnoxious Avon Lady that keeps ringing your doorbell just as you're sitting down to dinner? And face it: if Jane hasn't started bringing guns to Public School 101, she probably will soon. Yes, America: these are the people in your neighborhood/in your neighborhood/in your neigh-bor-hood...

And look closer yet: beyond its portrait of dysfunctional suburbia in all its ugliness, "Beauty" has humor, glimmers of hope, wonderful cinematography, and above all, kickass performances throughout.

As Lester, Kevin Spacey is, in a word, magnificent. An actor's actor, Spacey lights up the screen in nearly every scene he's in. Equally convincing both as a burnout and as a rejuvenated weightlifter, the only time I questioned his character was near the end, when he took a giant leap backwards, character development-wise (and since to say more would mean spoiling the movie unnecessarily, I'll just leave it at that for now). But even with that seeming character mis-step, Spacey the actor was solid through and through. Though I've wavered between "Beauty" and "Green" ever since seeing this film, my choice for Best Actor is crystal-clear. As they used to say back in the day, "no comp".

Good on a different (and, somewhat lesser) scale is the rest of the cast. Annette Bening gives a Oscar-worthy performance as Carolyn (though I still think that Hilary Swank should win for what I've seen of her Boys Don't Cry performance), proving yet again her range as an actress. And though most reviewers trumpet Thora Birch as angry, angsty daughter Jane, my favorites among the supporting cast are Chris Cooper as the Colonel, and especially Wes Bentley as Ricky. I've made it a point to look for both Cooper and Bentley in upcoming movies; I'm sure we haven't heard the last of either of them.

For me, the sign that a director has done his or her job well is that I notice something behind the acting, but not quite know what that something is. This was borne out in "Beauty", with Sam Mendez's "unseen" touches adding icing to a well-baked cake. One scene in particular in which I noticed his work came when Jane and Lester were seen talking through a kitchen window; though I listened and saw what was going on, I also noticed the row of bottles filled with colored liquid (which reminded me of a Photoshop class I'd just taken), and that further made me notice the use of light and shadows throughout the scene. I had to snap out of it so I wouldn't miss the forest for the proverbial trees.

Where some would see those bottles as an unnecessary distraction, I saw the Beauty; it was a good touch on what might have otherwise been Just Another scene.

THE "BLACK FACTOR"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]

In her American Beauty review, my esteemed colleague The Diva implied that this movie may be more relevant to White audience members than to Blacks, because the types of dysfunctions portrayed are more typically seen in White suburb dwellers. While I agree to a point, I'd say that, considering the phenomenon of "Buppies" and (for lack of a better term) the "Whitening" of the more affluent amongst us, the Melting Pot effect may see a few more of Us looking very much like Lester and Carolyn - and the Colonel.

If this movie does for Dysfunctional Suburbia what Fatal Attraction did for...uh, Dysfunctional Suburbia...hmmm...


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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed week of 10/1/99):

Bams' reviews:
American Beauty

The Diva's reviews:
Three Kings | American Beauty

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