Newsweek discusses ‘American Beauty’:
There is a very special alchemy at work in “American Beauty,” a movie composed of familiar parts which manages to feel strikingly new. Moviemakers have been busy exposing the hollow heart at the suburban supermarket for a good five decades. Now along comes a gifted screenwriter, Alan Ball; a remarkable first-time movie director from England, Sam Mendes, and a superlative cast to make those old tropes feel frisky and potent again.
Borrowing a page from “Sunset Boulevard,” this dreamy black comedy is narrated by a corpse: Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a going-nowhere writer for Media Monthly who already considers himself among the walking dead. His Realtor wife (Annette Bening) is chilly and compulsive, his daughter (Thora Birch) loathes him and his boss is about to fire him. What brings him back to life is a glimpse of his daughter’s high-school classmate Angela (Mena Suvari), seductively strutting her cheerleader’s stuff on a basketball court. Emboldened by mad desire, he quits his job, starts pumping iron, smoking pot and generally behaving like a man “with nothing to lose.” Lester is in a state of reckless, deluded grace, and Spacey, whose comic timing is as dry as a perfect martini, manages to make him both snakily dangerous and strangely endearing.
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