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American Beauty (1999)

4.2 out of 5 stars 1,492 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening. A suburban family sinks into decay as lust, depression and superficiality overtake their lives. This masterful dark comedy won five Oscars including Best Picture! 1999/color/122 min/R/widescreen.

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From its first gliding aerial shot of a generic suburban street, American Beauty moves with a mesmerizing confidence and acuity epitomized by Kevin Spacey's calm narration. Spacey is Lester Burnham, a harried Everyman whose midlife awakening is the spine of the story, and his very first lines hook us with their teasing fatalism--like Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis, Burnham tells us his story from beyond the grave.

It's an audacious start for a film that justifies that audacity. Weaving social satire, domestic tragedy, and whodunit into a single package, Alan Ball's first theatrical script dares to blur generic lines and keep us off balance, winking seamlessly from dark, scabrous comedy to deeply moving drama. The Burnham family joins the cinematic short list of great dysfunctional American families, as Lester is pitted against his manic, materialistic realtor wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening, making the most of a mostly unsympathetic role) and his sullen, contemptuous teenaged daughter, Jane (Thora Birch, utterly convincing in her edgy balance of self-absorption and wistful longing). Into their lives come two catalytic outsiders. A young cheerleader (Mena Suvari) jolts Lester into a sexual epiphany that blooms into a second adolescence. And an eerily calm young neighbor (Wes Bentley) transforms both Lester and Jane with his canny influence.

Credit another big-screen newcomer, English theatrical director Sam Mendes, with expertly juggling these potentially disjunctive elements into a superb ensemble piece that achieves a stylized pace without lapsing into transparent self-indulgence. Mendes has shrewdly insured his success with a solid crew of stage veterans, yet he's also made an inspired discovery in Bentley, whose Ricky Fitts becomes a fulcrum for both plot and theme. Cinematographer Conrad Hall's sumptuous visual design further elevates the film, infusing the beige interiors of the Burnhams' lives with vivid bursts of deep crimson, the color of roses--and of blood. --Sam Sutherland


Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball
  • Exclusive Storyboards with commentary by director Mendes and Director of Photography Conrad Hall
  • American Beauty: Look Closer Making of featurette

Product Details

  • Actors: Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, Sam Robards
  • Directors: Sam Mendes
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Dubbed: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Dreamworks Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: October 24, 2000
  • Run Time: 122 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,492 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00003CWL6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,423 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "American Beauty (1999)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape
I read somewhere that the overwelmingly red look of American Beauty is a symbol for blood and roses. Represented in the film by the flower petals in Lester Burnham's fantasies, and the blood spilt when the sadness that hovers beneath bears its face. The title of American Beauty does not refer to the pretty surfaces that hide the anguish of these people, but the beauty of their souls when dealing with that anguish. Many reviewers have considered the title to be ironic, it isn't. I've heard Kevin Spacey say that this film is about context, because taken out of context the behaviour of these characters seem bizzare and even phsycotic, but out with in the context of their messy lives or indeed anybody's life, it seems natural. If I tell you that Kevin Spacey plays a character who is obsessed with the idea of sleeping with his daughter's best friend, a daughter who constantly anounces her hatred of her parents, a woman so obsessed with appearances that happiness is but a memory to her, a loner who makes his living as a drug dealer with a firm rigid father living in denial about his son and himself, you would guess that there would be no one to like in this film. You would be wrong. This film is magical in the way it lets identify with these characters, care for them and worry about their outcome. Infact the ideas of American Beauty are nothing new. The persuit of happiness through the abanodoning of materialistic possesions and the satisfaction of primal, animal and natural desires was the exact same premise for Fight Club. This could be a middle aged version of that film. The family turmoil closely resembles Ang Lee's The Ice Storm 1998, and like that film, American Beauty ends in tragedy.Read more ›
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My initial reaction, "That was weird," has changed to "How thought-provoking." What happens when characters who struggle to live authentically cross paths with those who struggle to do anything but?
Lester Burnham and the oddly compelling boy next door both discover the ability to see the true beauty in life, even in the most unlikely or mundane circumstances. Who is to be pitied more: Lester, whose life is snuffed out at the moment of pure joy and contentment, or his wife, who buys into the mantra that one must first attain the appearance of success in order to BE successful? She fiercely shuts down any intense emotion lest she be overwhelmed, and even her sexual encounters are comically farcical. "When did you become so joyless?" the soul-searching Lester asks his wife in a touching moment.
Ricky's character as the boy next door is haunting. He sees life as an artist and a poet; his serenity contrasts with the stark repression of his military father and soulless mother, and intrigues Lester's daughter Jane, who possesses Wednesday Addams' moon face and dour disposition. Her struggle of self-discovery contrasts with that of her best friend, the beautiful and perfect cheerleader Angela, whose insecurities are masked by sexual bravado.
This is a movie worth seeing . . . worth thinking about long after it's over . . . and a gentle reminder to live life authentically.
1 Comment 47 of 53 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
"American Beauty" is a pure cinematic triumph that is both funny and sad. It's disturbing... and yet, it's extremely provocative and deep. The film is an extraordinary achievement that reveals a tragic and realistic story about a family that is anything but ordinary. It's a film with so many layers that it is almost impossible to dissect them all in one single thought.
Meet Lester Burnham; a man who feels like he's completely dead inside. His wife and daughter despise him and do not show him any signs of respect. On the surface, the family seems like a picture-perfect family that everybody dreams about--but inside is a completely different matter. His wife is obsessed with material possessions and doesn't care for "petty" things like love or life, while his daughter resents herself because she isn't "perfect." Lester's mental coma is rudely interrupted when he meets his daughter's friend and starts fantasizing about her. The awakening might be due to a disturbing thought or feeling, but the wake-up call changes Lester and allows him to realize that there's always time to erase his "forced-image" and be the person he really is. This is all a set-up for a funny, disturbing and tragic movie.
I don't know about everybody else, but my mind was literally racing around when this movie was playing before my eyes. It's one of those films that allows you to pick up on something different upon each viewing. As I said in the beginning of the review, this film has a number of layers to it. There's so many different meanings and points to the film that it is nearly impossible to describe them all in one little review. Besides, the fun part of the movie is discovering these meanings and points for yourself.
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4 Comments 104 of 129 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Blu-ray
While I feel the blu-ray transfer is better than the DVD it still is not film quality. There is a lot of edge enhancement done to people (observe the scene in which Lester's boss has his 1st talk to him...there is a white halo all the way around his body) and objects which says that this is not a true HD transfer but more than likely an up-convert from the DVD transfer. The image is soft and not in a "cinematographers choice" kind of way but in a pixelated way. Paramount continues to release sub-par blu-rays until people complain, than release corrected versions (Gladiator being a perfect example). Worth getting? For a slightly better picture: yes. But no extra extras (a direct port of the DVD which means bonus material that is now nearly 10 years old) is a let down for their "flagship" Sapphire Collection. This movie deserves a much better transfer and treatment overall. Released 1 year after it's anniversary you would have thought Paramount would have done some special for a film that brought them home a few Oscars and helped solidify Dreamworks as a major studio player.
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