American Beauty

American Beauty

Almost FamousAlmost Famous is the movie Cameron Crowe has been waiting a lifetime to tell. The fictionalization of Crowe's days as a teenage reporter for Creem and Rolling Stone has all the well-written characters and wonderful "movie moments" that we expect from Crowe (Jerry Maguire), but the film has an intangible something extra--an insider's touch that will turn the film into the ode to '70s rock & roll for years to come. We are introduced to Crowe's alter ego, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), at home, where his progressive mom (Frances McDormand, just superb) has outlawed rock music and sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel) has slipped him LPs that will "set his mind free." Following the wisdom of Creem's disheveled editor, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman in an instant-classic performance), Miller gets on the inside with the up-and-coming band Stillwater (a fictionalized mixture of the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, and others). A simple visit with the band turns into a three-week, life-altering odyssey into the heyday of American rock. Of the characters he meets on the road, the two most important are groupie extraordinaire Penny Lane (Kate Hudson in a star-making performance) and Stillwater's enigmatic lead guitarist (Billy Crudup), who keeps stringing Miller along for an interview. From the handwritten credits (done by Crowe) to the bittersweet finale, Crowe's comedic valentine is an indelible, heartbreaking romance of music, women, and the privilege of youth. --Doug Thomas American BeautyFrom 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. 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

Genre: Drama
Director(s): Sam Mendes
Production: Dream Works
  Won 5 Oscars. Another 104 wins & 100 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
R (Restricted)

Sorry I'm late.

No, that's quite all right, dear. Your father and I were just discussing his day at work. [to Lester] Why don't you tell our daughter about it, honey?

Janie, today I quit my job.


And then I told my boss to go f*** himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus.

[laughing] Your father seems to think this kind of behavior is something to be proud of!

And your mother seems to prefer I go through life like a f***ing prisoner while she keeps my dick in a Mason jar under the sink.

How dare you speak to me that way in front of her. And I marvel that you can be so contemptuous of me, on the same day that you lose your job.

I didn't lose it. It's not like, "Whoops! Where'd my job go?" I quit! Pass the asparagus.

Oh! Oh! Oh! And I want to thank you for putting me under the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner now!

I already have a job.

No, no, don't give a second thought as to who's gonna pay the mortgage. We'll just leave it all up to Carolyn! You mean you're gonna take care of everything now, Carolyn? Yes. I don't mind, I really don't. You mean everything? You don't mind having the sole responsibility, your husband feels he can just quit his job and you don't--

[overlapping] Will someone please pass me the f***ing asparagus?

[standing] Okay, guys, I'm not gonna be a part of this.

Sit down! [Janie sits. Lester stands up, walks to the other side of the table, picks up the plate of asparagus, then sits back down] I am sick and tired of being treated like I don't exist. You two do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, and I don't complain. Now all I want is the same--

[interrupting] Oh, you don't complain? Oh please! Excuse me! Excuse me! I must be psychotic, then! If you don't complain, what is this? [Lester stands with the asparagus plate in his hand] Yeah, let's bring in the laugh-meter and see how loud it gets on that one. You don't compl--

[throws the asparagus plate at the wall] [Casually looking a stunned Carolyn in the eyes] Don't interrupt me, honey. [sits back down to eat, looking up at the background music in disdain] Oh, and another thing, from now on we're going to alternate our dinner music, because, frankly--and I don't think I'm alone here-- [looks in Jane's direction] I'm really tired of this Lawrence Welk sh*t!

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