Overview: Tired of his mundane, suburban existence, Lester Burnham becomes enamored with his daughter’s attractive friend and decides to change his life around. DreamWorks Pictures. 1999. Rated R. 122 Minutes.
The Good: Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for his performance as Lester Burnham, and that performance is one of the few bright spots in this film. Burnham is going through a mid-life crisis and Spacey captures the essence of that perfectly with his despondent facial expressions and monotone voice. As Burnham’s outlook on life becomes more positive, Spacey makes the transformation seamless as an air of confidence begins to surround him and his facial expressions turn more menacing and empowered.
The Rest: Everything else about this movie is average. That’s the most appropriate description. The rest of the cast gives acceptable efforts, except Mena Suvari. Suvari’s performance as Angela Hayes, the motivation for Burnham’s transformation, clearly shows why her career never rose above the American Pie series; just awful. The narrative shoots itself in the foot. Burnham tells viewers in his opening monologue how the movie is going to end. From then on, rest of the movie fails to provide anything worthwhile to make up for the fact that the script already showed its hand.
The Weird: This film is filled wall-to-wall with weird. Writer Alan Ball crammed as much weird stuff in his screenplay as he possibly could, as if to say, “Look and admire how screwed up everything and everyone is”. It is juvenile and characteristic of the childish days of shooting spit wads and making fart sounds at the school lunch table. After the first couple oddities appear, viewers may still be on board (Burnham’s rose-filled fantasies, hyper-sexual Angela). But once the creepy kid (Wes Bentley) who records everything with his camcorder shows up, the wheels start to come off. Not only does the kid constantly record all the people around him, he records a plastic bag blowing in the wind and then gives a monologue to Burnham’s daughter (Thora Birch) about the benevolent forces behind life and how all the beauty is going to make his heart cave in. What the…?
Final Thoughts: A great performance from Kevin Spacey doesn’t keep American Beauty from being lackluster, overwrought, and as dull as Burnham’s suburban prison. There are better ways to spend two hours.