American Beauty Plot Summary

Middle-aged executive Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) finds himself stuck in a life he despises, filled with a job he hates and a marriage to the ambitious real estate broker Carolyn (Annette Bening) that has lost its spark. Their relationship is further strained by their 16-year-old daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), who is filled with resentment for her parents and struggles with low self-esteem.

New Neighbors, New Problems

When retired US Marine Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), his wife Barbara (Allison Janney), and their teenage son Ricky (Wes Bentley) move next door, things begin to shift. Ricky, an eccentric individual, spends his time documenting the world with his camcorder and dealing marijuana under the guise of a part-time catering job. His strict and abusive father, Frank, has a past filled with attempting to control Ricky’s behavior, including having him committed to a psychiatric hospital and sent to a military academy.

Awakening of Desires

Lester becomes infatuated with Jane’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), after seeing her perform at a school basketball game. This sparks a series of sexual fantasies featuring Angela and recurring red rose petals. Simultaneously, Carolyn begins an affair with her married business rival Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher), while Lester, learning about his impending job loss, manipulates his supervisor into giving him a generous severance package.

Lester’s Transformation

With his newfound freedom, Lester starts working at a fast-food restaurant, buys his dream car, a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, and starts working out after overhearing Angela’s comment about his physique. He also begins to smoke marijuana, supplied by Ricky and starts flirting with Angela, leading to a strain in Angela’s friendship with Jane, who has started a relationship with Ricky.

Unraveling Secrets and Misunderstandings

After serving Carolyn and Buddy at his restaurant, Lester discovers Carolyn’s affair and reacts with satisfaction. Buddy ends the affair fearing a costly divorce, leaving Carolyn frustrated and humiliated. Meanwhile, Frank becomes suspicious of Lester and Ricky’s friendship and misinterprets a video of Lester working out naked, leading to a confrontation with Ricky and his eventual disownment.

A Series of Dramatic Confrontations

Lester’s flirtation with Angela leads to a falling out between Jane and Angela, which escalates when Ricky interrupts their argument to invite Jane to run away with him to New York City, and he bluntly criticizes Angela. A confused Frank approaches Lester with a misguided romantic advance, which Lester gently rejects. Lester and Angela share a poignant moment where Angela admits her virginity, leading Lester to reevaluate his desires.

A Shocking Climax

An unseen figure shoots Lester in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Ricky and Jane discover Lester’s body while a distraught Carolyn discards her gun and clings to Lester’s clothes. A bloodied Frank, missing a gun from his collection, returns home.

Final Reflections

In his closing narration, Lester reflects on the meaningful experiences in his life. Despite his untimely death, he expresses his happiness and appreciation for the beauty that still exists in the world.

Film Review

“American Beauty” is a 1999 American drama film directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, and Thora Birch. The movie explores the dark undercurrents beneath the surface of suburban American life, delving into themes of beauty, desire, and the pursuit of happiness.

The film is a thought-provoking and introspective examination of the complexities of human existence. Its exploration of societal norms, personal dissatisfaction, and the search for meaning in a seemingly perfect world resonated with audiences and earned critical acclaim, making it a significant work of American cinema.

The film’s visual style, from its meticulous composition to its evocative cinematography, is masterfully executed, creating a visual feast that reflects the inner turmoil of its characters. The use of symbolism and visual metaphors adds depth and layers of meaning to the narrative, inviting the audience to interpret and engage with the story on multiple levels.

The screenplay, written by Alan Ball, offers a compelling narrative structure that incorporates multiple character perspectives and intertwining storylines. The film presents a dissection of the American Dream, employing dark humor and a touch of surrealism to expose the underlying tensions and contradictions of suburban life. This exploration of the human condition and the disillusionment that can accompany it is a hallmark of the film.

The film delves into the characters’ desires, fears, and struggles, shedding light on the complexities and contradictions of their lives. The layered performances by the cast bring depth and authenticity to these characters, capturing the nuances of their emotions and inner conflicts.

The film’s musical score, composed by Thomas Newman, enhances the atmospheric tone of the story. Its delicate melodies and haunting motifs add a layer of introspection and melancholy, complementing the narrative and emphasizing the emotional weight of the film.