American Beauty (1999) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

Beauty is difficult to define because of its subjectivity. There have been numerous attempts to explain it, but probably the best way is through the notion that “beauty is within the eye of the beholder.” There is also the fact that something ordinary can be truly extraordinary. Alan Ball saw a plastic bag floating outside of the World Trade Center in the 1990s, and something that simple inspired him to write one of the greatest Oscar-winning screenplays of all time. Ball originally wrote American Beauty as a play, but it luckily became one of the most celebrated films in cinematic history.

A Toast

The film features astounding cinematography, a strangely beautiful plot, and a career-defining performance from Kevin Spacey. Annette Bening also did well as the role of Carolyn even though Hilary Swank won the Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry. Spacey’s character is Lester Burnham, which is an anagram for “Humbert learns.” That is because the screenplay has connections to Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, which remains one of the most influential (but also controversial) novels ever written. Some critics also interpret the film as a modern-day version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman because both of these classics critique the “American Dream.” American Beauty refers to not just the rose, but it also celebrates beauty while simultaneously critiquing idealism. Life itself might never be perfect, but some would say that this film actually is perfect because of how it deals with the ennui associated with contemporary society.


American Beauty is one of the greatest movies produced during the 20th Century, and it provides a nice closure for the 20th Century itself.  Hollywood might have attempted to glamourize films during the beginning of cinematic history, but American Beauty is special because of the messages that it attempts to convey, such as the grittiness of reality. Perhaps audiences really do need to “look closer” in order to see the joys of life in spite of the imperfections that can burden them.

American Beauty (1999) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: whenever Lester and Carolyn argue with each other (such as in the bedroom or at the dinner table)

Take a Drink: during every fantasy sequence

Drink a Shot: whenever roses and/or rose petals appear on screen

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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