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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> October 1999 >> American Beauty

American Beauty

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Dates on Record:
October 1999, October 2000, April 2002
IMDB Name:
American Beauty (1999)
Sam Mendes
comedy, drama
MPAA Rating:
R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content.


American Beauty is a powerful tragedy. Very rarely do I see a movie define its characters so clearly as here, and the result is that I loved the characters first and their characterizations second. The first line of voiceover warns us that Lester Burnham will be dead by the film's end. The movie then spends a good long while making Lester, his family, and his neighbors real people that the audience cares about so that his death is felt on a personal level. There are many laughs along the way, but this is by no means a pure comedy. The Alan Ball script tackles homophobia, sexual repression, drug use, the cut-throat nature of American business, and yes, beauty. All of these are presented by example rather than in courtroom speeches.


Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening spearhead this exceptional cast with aplomb. Spacey portrays Lester with the quiet energy that's been his signature. Bening infuses Carolyn with the mad devotion to perfection that only Martha Stewart seems to be capable of in real life. More importantly, though, there's always the feeling that someone is thinking behind the faces. They're never just characters, they're people.

Mena in Roses

Early in the film, I found myself thinking that Mena Suvari was a good sport for taking on the requirements of this role. By the end I decided that she was lucky to be part of the film, regardless of what was required of her. Suvari was pleasant earlier this year as Heather in American Pie. Her character was decidedly more conservative there, but even when her character started to physically express her feelings for her boyfriend, she didn't come anywhere near the sensuality she achieves here. Paula Abdul's choreography and Conrad L. Hall's cinematography combine to make Suvari a very hot number. Add in the bizarre and beautiful uses of rose petals in Lester's fantasies, and the brew is potent. The only image in the film as memorable as Lester's dreams involves staring down the barrel of a gun.

Newman Composes For New Man

It's almost too good to be true that the score's composer's name suits the theme of the movie. Thomas Newman has dozens of composing credits in his filmography, but I don't remember the scores from those that I've seen. American Beauty's score is wonderful. Newman's use of interesting percussion voices lends an exotic air to the dream sequences.

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Copyright 1999-2002 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.