American Beauty: Film Review

American Beauty

A Relatable Movie

American Beauty

American Beauty, Fair use

The 1999 film American Beauty is a movie directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. The film stars Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham who is a middle-aged office worker experiencing a midlife crisis. At the same time he becomes infatuated with his daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). Coupled with this situation, Carolyn (Annette Bening) is Lester’s materialistic wife who is obsessed with career and appearances. The movie is a general sense a satire of American middle class thinking that encompasses beauty and personal meaning.

The plot centers on Lester who despises his job. Lester becomes infatuated with his daughter Jane’s cheerleader friend, Angela Hayes (Suvari), after seeing her perform a half-time dance routine at a high school basketball game. He begins to have sexual fantasies about Angela. When Lester is told he going to be laid off he blackmails his boss for $60,000 and quits his job. Lester begins working at a fast food establishment. Going deeper into his midlife crisis buys his dream car and starts working out after he overhears Angela tell Jane that she would find him sexually attractive if he worked out. He begins smoking marijuana and living his life in manner that can only be described as comically adolescent.

While Lester is rediscovering his lost youth, his wife, Carolyn begins an affair with a business rival, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). Lester discovers Carolyn’s infidelity, but reacts indifferently. Buddy cools the affair, saying he is facing a potentially expensive divorce.

Jane begins a relationship with the next door neighbor Ricky, who is a dealing pot to her father. The movie continues in a comic satire in which Lester is the center of everyone’s frustration. He is murdered, in the end, because Ricky’s father, being homophobic, has mistaken Lester and Ricky’s relationship as being homosexual.

The plot of the movie presents a multiplicity of interpretations. The movie obviously encompasses the idea of conformity, social taboos, aging, beauty, and many other themes. However, the movie seems to defy categorization and yet seamlessly connects many concepts in its presentation of social and family dysfunction. Perhaps this is where the true plot lies, in that these different problems are never a singular event and that they are sewn together in the fabric of all people’s lives. For instance, Lester, overtime, experiences the monotony of daily existence, while at the same time experiencing a midlife crisis, and all of this coupled with feeling trapped in a suburban prison.

Almost any average person can relate to these feelings that Lester experiences. The movies true moral lies in the fact that the characters not only experience these feelings and problems but as well acts on them. The moral being that just because people experience these issues, they should not act on them. It would be serious violation of morality for any father to seek to have a sexual relationship with his daughter’s friend. The consequences of this action are shown to the audience in creative manner that surpasses tired plots centering on legal issues. Instead, Lester’s desires and actions ultimately lead to a terrible end for him. Had Lester not tried to seduce his daughter; had Lester not quit his job; and had he not started smoking pot, he would have never found himself in a situation that would ultimately lead to his murder. Likewise, the other characters experience this lesson through Lester’s death. The point of the movie, however, does not reside in direct teaching of the moral, but instead the lesson is shown through presentation of common issues most Americans experience. The movie is meant to question our lives and how we define ourselves as individuals. The question of how we live is deeply associated with the measure of meaning our lives have. The film shows that the reason we do things and live the way we do has an underlying structure of right and wrong thinking. At the minimum, we see through the character’s lives that by acting on the feelings of monotony and middle age struggle can ultimately lead to negative consequences. On a personal level, one relates to this movie from the standpoint of moving through stages of stages of my life and how trapped a person can feel in the monotony of job and life responsibilities. If you ever felt trapped waiting on things to happen in life like higher pay or promotions, then you can relate with Lester. “American Beauty” makes one question the meaning of my life especially when nostalgically looking backward at that past, thinking that times were happier.


Triola Vincent. Mon, Mar 15, 2021. American Beauty: Film Review Retrieved from

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