American Beauty

Kevin Spacey …. Lester Burnham
Annette Bening …. Carolyn Burnham
Thora Birch …. Jane Burnham
Wes Bentley …. Ricky Fitts
Mena Suvari …. Angela Hayes
Peter Gallagher …. Buddy Kane
Allison Janney …. Barbara Fitts
Chris Cooper (I) …. Colonel Frank Fitts
Scott Bakula …. Jim Olmeyer
Sam Robards …. Jim ‘JB’ Berkley
Barry Del Sherman …. Brad Dupree
Directed by
Sam Mendes
Written by Alan Ball.
Rated R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content.
Runtime: 121

Central Theme
Life seems meaningless in its myriad details, but at its core life pivots on deep and unchanging truths.

Lester (Kevin Spacey) hates his job. He loves the girl his wife once was, but loathes the success-driven ice queen she has become. He’s unable to communicate with his daughter, but nurses an obsessive interest in her best friend Anglea. Threatened with downsizing at work, he blackmails his way to a tidy severance package and wallows in a midlife crisis, complete with drugs and a hot Firebird. When he begins to wake up it’s too late.

Like the biblical King David, Lester seems to have it all. Yet he wants more, and he gives no thought to anyone but himself. In a pivotal moment, Lester is about to make love to Angela. She is willing and ready, but she embarrassedly confesses, “I’ve never done this before.” Shocked that this flirtatious vixen is not the wild party animal she has led him to believe, Lester finally sees her as she is a vulnerable young girl with insecurities and needs. Unlike King David who never understood the evil he had done to Bathsheba and Uriah until later, Lester stops short of deflowering Angela. He reaches out to her in her humiliation and begins, for the first time, to act like an adult.

Lester represents the mindset of many people today who look for “the finer things of life” to give them meaning and satisfaction, and then fall apart after the temporary euphoria fades. Beauty shows that these things do not bring people happiness. Nothing ultimately gives Lester fulfillment. Everything people strive for in this world has the potential to be taken away. Job, cars, relationships and money all can vanish. Why do we look for happiness and acceptance in things that can disappear? We all have stories when the money hasn’t been there, when we’ve lost our job, when our friend wasn’t there for us when we needed. Why would we base our lives on these things that make no guarantees of always being there for us, when we have a God who does make that promise?


Questions Worth Discussing

Provocative Quotes

Lester Burnham: You don’t get to tell me what to do ever again.

Carolyn Burnham: Are you trying to look unattractive?
Jane: Yes.
Carolyn Burnham: Well, congratulations. You’ve succeded admirably.

Ricky Fitts: I’m not obsessing. I’m just curious.

Carolyn Burnham: Uh, who’s car is that out front?
Lester Burnham: Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I’ve always wanted and now I have it. I rule!

Carolyn Burnham: This is a four thousand dollar sofa upholstered in Italian silk. It is not just a couch.
Lester Burnham: IT’S JUST A COUCH!

Lester Burnham: Smile! You’re at Mr. Smiley’s.

Lester Burnham: It’s okay. I wouldn’t remember me either.

Angela Hayes: What do you want?
Lester Burnham: Are you kidding? I want you.

Ricky Fitts: Welcome to America’s weirdest home videos.

Lester Burnham: Look at me. Jerking off in the shower. This will be the highlight of my day.

Lester Burnham: I feel like I’ve been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I’m just now waking up.

Jane Burnham: I know you think my dad’s harmless, but you’re wrong.

Carolyn Burnham: You ungrateful little brat! Just look at everything you have. When I was your age, we… lived in a duplex! We didn’t even have our own house!

Carolyn Burnham: Fuck me, your majesty!

Angela Hayes: At least I’m not ugly!
Ricky Fitts: Yes you are. And you’re boring. And you’re totally ordinary. And you know it.

Brad Dupree: Man, you are one twisted fuck.
Lester Burnham: Nope, I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.

Ricky Fitts: Excuse me for speaking so bluntly sir. But those fags make me want to puke my fucking guts out.
Colonel Fitts: Well, me too son. Me too.

Ricky Fitts: It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse. But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.

Brad: [reading Lester’s job description] My job requires mostly masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men’s room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that less closely resembles Hell.

Jim #1: Do you just want to lose weight, or are you looking to increase strength and flexibility as well?
Lester Burnham: I want to look good naked!

Ricky Fitts: So, do you like to party?
Lester Burnham: What?
Ricky Fitts: Do you like to get high?

Catering Boss: I’m not paying you to do… whatever it is you’re doing.
Ricky Fitts: So don’t pay me.
Catering Boss: Excuse me?
Ricky Fitts: I quit. So you don’t have to pay me. Now leave me alone.
Lester Burnham: I think you just became my personal hero.

Carolyn Burnham: Honey, I watched you the whole time, and you didn’t screw up once!

Carolyn Burnham: There happens to be a lot about me that you don’t know, Mr. Smarty Man. There’s plenty of joy in my life.

Brad: Got a minute?
Lester Burnham: For you, Brad, I’ve got five!

Angela Hayes: If people I don’t even know look at me and want to fuck me, it means I really have a shot at being a model.

Ricky Fitts: My dad thinks I paid for all this with catering jobs. Never underestimate the power of denial.

Lester Burnham: This isn’t life, it’s just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.

Lester Burnham: Remember those posters that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? Well, that’s true of every day but one — the day you die.

Jane Burnham: I need a father who’s a role model, not some horny geek-boy who’s gonna spray his shorts every time I bring a girlfriend home from school.

Jane Burnham: Are you scared?
Ricky Fitts: I don’t get scared.
Jane Burnham: My parents will try to find me.
Ricky Fitts: Mine won’t.

Angela Hayes: It’s that psycho next door. Jane, what if he worships you? What if he’s got a shrine with pictures of you surrounded by dead people’s heads and stuff?

Ricky Fitts: I was filming this dead bird.
Angela Hayes: Why?
Ricky Fitts: Because it’s beautiful.

Lester Burnham: How’s Jane?
Angela Hayes: What do you mean?
Lester Burnham: I mean, how’s her life? Is she happy? Is she miserable? I’d really like to know, and she’d die before she’d ever tell me about it.
Angela Hayes: She’s… she’s really happy. She thinks she’s in love.
Lester Burnham: Good for her.
Angela Hayes: How are you?
Lester Burnham: God, it’s been a long time since anybody asked me that. …I’m great.
Angela Hayes: I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.
Lester Burnham: I’m great.

[at the dinner table]
Carolyn Burnham: Your father and I were just discussing his day at work. Why don’t you tell our daughter about it, honey?
Lester Burnham: Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go fuck himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus.
Carolyn Burnham: Your father seems to think this type of behavior is something to be proud of.
Lester Burnham: And your mother seems to prefer I go through life like a fucking prisoner while she keeps my dick in a mason jar under the sink.
Carolyn Burnham: 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.
Lester Burnham: Lose it? I didn’t lose it. It’s not like, “Whoops! Where’d my job go?” I QUIT. Someone pass me the asparagus.

Mr. Smiley’s Manager: I don’t think you’d fit in here.
Lester Burnham: I have fast food expierience.
Mr. Smiley’s Manager: Yeah, like twenty years ago!
Lester Burnham: Well, I’m sure there have been marvelous advances in the industry, but surely you must have some sort of training program. It’s unfair you presume I won’t be able to learn.

Carolyn Burnham: I see you’re smoking pot now. I suppose you think smoking illegal psychotropic substances is a good example to set for our sixteen year-old daughter?!
Lester Burnham: You’re one to talk, you bloodless, money-grubbing freak.

Carolyn Burnham: What the hell do you think you’re doing?
Lester Burnham: I’m going to whale on my pecs and then do my back.

Lester Burnham: I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

Jane Burnham: [turning the camera on Ricky] Don’t you feel naked?
Ricky Fitts: I am naked.

Lester Burnham: [narrating] That’s my wife, Carolyn. See the way the handle on her pruning shears matches her gardening clogs? That’s not an accident.

Colonel Frank Fitts: You need structure… and discipline.
Ricky Fitts: Thank you for trying to teach me, sir. Don’t give up on me, Dad.

Carolyn Burnham: My company sells an image. It’s part of my job to live that image.

Lester Burnham: [narrating] It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself.

Carolyn Burnham: What are you doing?
Lester Burnham: Nothing.
Carolyn Burnham: You were masturbating!
Lester Burnham: I was not.
Carolyn Burnham: Yes you were!
Lester Burnham: Oh, all right! So shoot me, I was whacking off! That’s right, I was choking the bishop, chafing the carrot, you know, saying “hi” to my monster!

Lester Burnham: When I was your age, I flipped burgers just to be able to buy an eight-track.
Ricky Fitts: That sucks.
Lester Burnham: No, actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me.

Buddy Kane: In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times.

Carolyn Burnham: I refuse to be a victim!

Jane Burnham: Somebody should just put him out of his misery.
Ricky Fitts: Do you want me to kill him?
Jane Burnham: Yeah, would you?

Colonel Frank Fitts: Where’s your wife?
Lester Burnham: Uh, I dunno. Probably out fucking that dorky, prince-of-real-estate guy.
Colonel Frank Fitts: Your wife is with another man and you don’t care?
Lester Burnham: Nope. Our marriage is just for show. A commercial for how normal we are when we’re anything but.

Lester Burnham: So Janie, how was school?
Jane Burnham: It was okay.
Lester Burnham: Just okay?
Jane Burnham: No dad, it was spectacular.

[After meeting Ricky Fitts for the first time]
Angela Hayes: What a freak! And why does he dress like a bible salesman?
Jane Burnham: He’s just so confident, it can’t be real.
Angela Hayes: I don’t believe him. I mean, he didn’t even like, look at me once!

Angela Hayes: I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary.

Angela Hayes: So, you’re fucking psycho-boy on a regular basis now? Tell me, has he got a big dick?
Jane Burnham: It’s not like that.
Angela Hayes: What, hasn’t he got one?
Jane Burnham: I’m not going to talk about his dick with you, OK?

Ricky Fitts: Yes, I suck dick for money. You should see me fuck, I’m the best piece of ass in three states.
Col. Frank Fitts: Get out. I don’t ever want to see you again.
Ricky Fitts: What a sad little man you are.

Carolyn: Don’t you mess with me, mister, or I’ll divorce you so fast it’ll make your head spin!
Lester: On what grounds? I’m not a drunk, I don’t fuck other women, I’ve never hit you, I don’t mistreat you… I don’t even try to touch you because you’ve made it so abundantly clear how unnecessary you consider me to be! But I did support you before you got your license, and some people might think that entitles me to half of what’s yours. So, turn off the light when you come to bed!

Angela Hayes: I’m serious. He just pulled down his pants and yanked it out. You know, like, “Say hello to Mr. Happy.”
Playground Girl #1: Gross.
Angela Hayes: It wasn’t gross. It was kinda cool.
Playground Girl #1: So did you do it with him?
Angela Hayes: Of course I did. He’s like a really well known photographer. He shoots for “Elle” on like a regular basis. It would have been so majorly stupid of me to turn him down.
Playground Girl #2: You are a total prostitute.
Angela Hayes: Hey! That’s how things really are. You just don’t know ’cause you’re this pampered little suburban chick.
Playground Girl #2: So are you. You’ve only been in “Seventeen” once and you looked fat! So stop acting like you’re goddamn Christy Turlington!
Angela Hayes: Cunt!

Jane Burnham: I don’t think we can be friends anymore.
Angela Hayes: You’re way too uptight about sex.
Jane Burnham: Just don’t fuck my dad, all right? Please?
Angela Hayes: Why not?

Lester Burnham: 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. All I want–
Carolyn Burnham: Oh, you don’t complain! Oh, please! Excuse me! Excuse me! I must be psychotic then! If you don’t complain, what is this? Yeah, let’s bring in the laugh meter and see how loud it gets on that one. You don’t complain–
[Lester throws the plate of asparagus at the wall.]
Lester Burnham: Don’t interrupt me, honey.

Angela Hayes: Well, whatever, this is boring. Let’s go.
Jane Burnham: [to Ricky] Do you you need a ride?
Angela Hayes: Are you crazy? I don’t want to end up hacked to pieces in a dumpster somewhere.
Ricky Fitts: It’s okay. I’ll walk. But thanks.
Angela Hayes: Yeah, see? He doesn’t want to go anyway. C’mon, let’s go. Come on, Jane.
Jane Burnham: I think I’m going to walk too.
Angela Hayes: What?! Jane, that’s, like, almost a mile.

[Last line]
Lester Burnham: I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me. But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once… and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember… to relax, and not try to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. Don’t worry… you will someday.

Ricky Fitts: She’s not your friend. She’s just someone you use to feel good about yourself.

Angela Hayes: Jane, he’s a freak!
Jane Burnham: Then so am I! And we’ll always be freaks and we’ll never be like other people and you’ll never be a freak because you’re just too… perfect!

Angela Hayes: You total slut, you have a crush on him. You’re defending him, you love him, you wanna have, like, ten thousand of his babies.

Posted in Movies, Staublog in October 1, 1999 by | No Comments »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

14 − 4 =

More from Staublog