American Beauty

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American Beauty
Directed by Sam Mendes
Produced by Bruce Cohen
Dan Jinks
Written by Alan Ball
Narrated by Kevin Spacey
Starring Kevin Spacey
Annette Bening
Thora Birch
Wes Bentley
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Conrad L. Hall
Editing by Tariq Anwar
Christopher Greenbury
Distributed by Dreamworks
Release date(s) September 15, 1999
Running time 122 minutes
Country USA
Language English
Budget $15 million
Gross revenue $356,296,601
Official website

American Beauty is an American drama film directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey. It was written by homosexual Alan Ball, who also created and produced the television shows Six Feet Under and True Blood. Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a 42-year-old office worker who undergoes a mid-life crisis and develops an obsession with his 16-year-old daughter Jane's best friend.


The film begins by introducing the audience to the Burnham family. Lester (Spacey) is a middle-aged advertising executive who despises his job and his boss. Carolyn (Bening) is an unsuccessful real-estate broker with high ambitions. Their daughter Jane (Birch) loathes her parents and has poor self-esteem; because of this, she is saving up her money from babysitting to undergo breast augmentation surgery. Their new neighbors are the Fitts, which consists of the retired USMC Colonel Frank (Chris Cooper), his dissociative wife Barbara (Allison Janney), and their son Ricky (Bentley).

Lester considers himself to be boring and a loser, at one point saying he feels "sedated." This changes when he and Carolyn attend a basketball game at Jane's school where she is performing in the half-time show. He meets Jane's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari) and becomes obsessed with her, experiencing strong sexual fantasies involving her and rose petals. After this, Lester becomes revitalized and quits his job after blackmailing his boss for $60,000. He becomes employed as a fry cook at a fast food restaurant, begins working out with hopes of impressing Angela, and smokes marijuana with Ricky.

At the same time, Carolyn and Jane both undergo life-changing events. Carolyn begins an affair with rival real estate agent Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher), while Jane develops a romantic relationship with Ricky. However, the events soon take a turn for the worse. Lester discovers Carolyn's infidelity and reacts apathetically to it, which leads Buddy to suggesting that they break off the affair. Col. Fitts, suspicious of his son and Lester's relationship, discovers a video his son made of Lester working out in his garage naked. While observing the two smoking marijuana, he mistakenly assumes that they are having sex. When Ricky returns home, his father accuses him of being gay and kicks him out.

Ricky returns to the Burnham household and asks Jane to run away with him to New York City. She agrees, much to the discontent of Angela. Ricky and Jane argue with Angela, labeling her as "ordinary" and "boring, which causes her to storm out of the room. Lester is approached by a distraught Col. Fitts in his garage, who attempts to kiss him. Lester rejects him, telling him that he has the "wrong idea", leading to an ashamed Fitts returning home. During this time, Carolyn is observed sitting alone in her car angry and loading a gun that she had purchased earlier in the film.

Lester goes inside and finds Angela. After a brief conversation, Lester seduces her, but stops once he learns that she is a virgin. The two bond and share their frustrations with life. Angela leaves to go to the bathroom, and Lester gazes at a family portrait smiling. He is then suddenly shot and killed by an unknown perpetrator, with Ricky and Jane finding his body moments later.

The film ends with Lester looking back on his life. The actions of the characters before and after his death are intertwined during this scene. It is also revealed that it was Col. Fitts who murdered Lester. Lester's final words state that although he has died, he is happy because "there is so much beauty in the world."


The film was one of the most positively received movies of 1999. At the 72nd Academy Awards, it was nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture, Lead Actor (Spacey), Lead Actress (Bening), Director, Cinematography, Score, Editing, and Original Screenplay. It won in every category except for Best Score, Editing, and Lead Actress.