Film and Food

Movies reviews with matching food – eat, watch, enjoy

Best Picture – American Beauty (1999)

Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening & Thora Birch


This is one of those films. You either love it or hate it. It’s an intense little number. Very confronting and I loved it.

I’m not a sicko, I don’t take pleasure in the disturbing parts of this film, it’s just that it is honest. Suburbia is full of people with pleasant looking masks. It is a place where appearances are everything… except when they’re not. This movie painfully scratches the suburban mask off. It may sting a little, but in the end it’s clear that masks cannot last forever.

And now to the plot: Lester Burnham (Spacey) is a pathetic man married to a ‘fabulous’ woman, Carolyn (Benning). They live in a sensational house in a lovely area of middle America. Their one daughter, Jane, (Birch) is completely different. She is not afraid to show her disdain for herself and her parents. She’s honest, frustrated and tired of the ‘happy’ faces that oh so obviously hide such deep despair.

Change is in the air as Lester loses his job and the new neighbours move in next door. The father is ex-military (Chris Cooper) and the mother an almost comatose housewife (Allison Janney). They, too, have a single child, teenager, Ricky (Wes Bentley). He’s an odd-bod but Jane starts to like him.

Back in ‘happyland’, Carolyn pretends to be fulfilled in her job as a real estate agent and has an affair with fellow agent Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). Misery gains momentum as Lester starts going crazy. His mask has suddenly crumbled and he doesn’t care. Jane’s friend Angela (Mena Suvari) becomes Lester’s obsession. Eeeeek factor.

Then there’s tension between the new neighbours as friendships are misinterpreted and secret struggles are brought to the surface. In the beginning the vibe of the film is sunny and happy but in the end, the truth comes out and there’s nothing but raw despair. Somehow, the strange people find beauty in this place of naked honesty and ugliness in deceit, even if it appears happy.

This is not a happy, clappy film. It won’t make you feel good at the end. It is a thinking film; a philosophical tale. A modern look at suburbia, at masks, at the enormous gap between what we want our lives to be like and their reality. It is gross because some people battle with gross stuff. It’s ugly and broken and dark because life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Finding the beauty within all the chaos and darkness is the key and this is what this film is all about.

American Beauty Trivia:

  • Budget – $15,000,000
  • Kirsten Dunst and Jessica Biel both turned down the role of Angela
  • Paula Abdul choreographed the Spartanette’s dance routine
  • ‘American Beauty’ is referring to a rose that looks lovely on the surface but often suffers from rot at its roots.
  • The scene where Lester applies for the job at the burger joint was actually filmed at night and made to look like it’s daytime.
  • Jane’s appearance changes throughout the film. She gets more makeup on and Angela changes to have less.
  • In the pot scenes, Bentley and Spacey are actually smoking honey tobacco

Deep breath. Ok. Onwards we go! Next film to watch is Gladiator starring Aussie Russell Crowe.


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