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American Beauty Reviews

Reviewed By: Lucia Bozzola

A darkly comic critique of suburban stupor with a measured touch of redemption, American Beauty became the most laureled film of 1999. As written by Alan Ball and directed by theatre wunderkind/film neophyte Sam Mendes, the tale of Lester Burnham's final year of life keenly delves into the repressed desires, rampant materialism, skewed values, and gnawing insecurities lurking behind the crisply manicured lawns and meticulously decorated houses lining Any Street, USA. Anchored by Kevin Spacey's gleefully sardonic yet sensitively attuned performance as doomed "seeker" Lester, the superb ensemble cast of adults and teens (including Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Chris Cooper and newcomers Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari) navigate the myriad dysfunctions with wit and flashes of pathos. Complementing the voiced desire for some kind of escape, Lester's and video voyeur Ricky Fitts' search for beauty in the mundane, whether in rose petal-strewn dreams or grainy images of a dancing bag, is given luminous life by veteran cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. Despite the complaint from a few critics that it did not truly "look closer" at the terrain previously covered by The Ice Storm (1997), Happiness (1998), and Blue Velvet (1986), American Beauty garnered several critics' circle prizes and a fistful of Golden Globes on the way to winning the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Cinematography.