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American Beauty

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: American Beauty

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: May 1999
Genres: Drama, Comedy

*Also starring: Mena Suvari, Thora Birch, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Sam Robards, Barry Del Sherman, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper

Review by Susan Granger
4 stars out of 4

This surprisingly dramatic black comedy goes for the jugular as it examines with bruising intensity two dysfunctional families in American suburbia. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey ("The Usual Suspects") stars as a cynical advertising exec who hates his job and resents his controlling wife, played by Annette Bening. She's a fiercely ambitious, high-strung perfectionist, intoxicated with success, as she passionately devotes herself to selling real estate and tending her rose garden. Thora Birch is their daughter - and she loathes them. In fact, the film opens with videotape footage of the teenager complaining about her father, wishing someone would kill him. Early on, we discover someone does. Spacey will be dead within the year - at least that's what he tells us. Who? How? When? Why? That's what's eventually revealed on the screen. It's a classic suspense device - and it works. Meanwhile, Spacey's lusting after his daughter's flirtatious high school chum (Mena Suvari) and Bening's bedding a realtor (Peter Gallagher), as Birch becomes involved with the "psycho next door" (Wes Bentley), who is - in turn - terrorized by his stern, abusive father (Chris Cooper). In this satiric, sophisticated social commentary, first-time screenwriter Alan Ball and first-time film director Sam Mendes (Broadway's "Cabaret," "The Blue Room") cinematically capture the hilarious, hedonistic, and heartbreaking desperation of a marital mid-life crisis and struggle in depth with the ironic definition of beauty. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "American Beauty" is an amazing, powerfully disturbing 10, as it skewers the '90s. Let's talk Oscar nominations - this is one of the best pictures of the year!

Copyright 2000 Susan Granger

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