Classic Film Review: American Beauty (1999)

And the Oscar Goes to:

American Beauty, 1999

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Allison Janney, Peter Gallagher, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper


The last Best Picture Oscar winner of the 20th century (and the first reviewed in this series of the 20th century), American Beauty is an American drama film focused on the life of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, Baby Driver), who is sexually absent with his wife, which causes a strain on their marriage, and fantasises about his daughter’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), much to his daughter’s, Jane (Thora Birch), annoyance. With a homophobic neighbour, who has a son fresh out of two years in a mental institute, and a wife who seeks solace in the arms of another man, American Beauty has enough stories weaving in-and-out of each other to keep it going.

However, despite all these storylines playing out, the pacing of the film is a bit slow. While the same assessment was made from A Beautiful Mind (that the first half was slow) it was saved because the second half really picked up the pace, American Beauty doesn’t really have that. And its ending also suffers slightly due to Lester informing us at the start that he’ll be dead by the end. This means the finale building up to his death is more about who done it, than the fact it was done. While this is interesting (as it lends a more focused look at everyone else), it takes away from the dramatic and shocking moment of his killing.

Negatives aside, the soundtrack to this film is brilliant. The early background music is so upbeat and slightly crazy it beautifully matches the characters, before adding in American pop-rock songs with the several scenes of the Burnhams driving. And the performances of all those involved are very well executed, especially Spacey’s.

American Beauty is a fine film, with a well-written story allowing several different themes to come to the surface (imprisonment, sexuality, repression, beauty, life) and all do so effectively. A well-acted film with a brilliant soundtrack behind it, however its speed is a bit slow without having a major climax to help speed it up.


Plot: * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ½


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