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American Beauty (1999)

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Coming Out at 17 September 1999 in theaters

Drama

American Beauty is drama film written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes, in his feature directorial debut. Kevin Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, an advertising executive who has a midlife crisis when he becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend, played by Mena Suvari. Annette Bening stars as Lester’s materialistic wife, Carolyn, and Thora Birch plays their insecure daughter, Jane. Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, and Allison Janney also feature. Academics have described the film as a satire of American middle-class notions of beauty and personal satisfaction; further analysis has focused on the film’s explorations of romantic and paternal love, sexuality, materialism, self-liberation, and redemption.

Ball began writing American Beauty as a play in the early 1990s, partly inspired by the media circus that accompanied the Amy Fisher trial in 1992. He shelved the play after realizing the story would not work on stage. After several years as a television screenwriter, Ball revived the idea in 1997 when attempting to break into the film industry. The rewritten script had a cynical outlook influenced by Ball’s frustrating tenures writing for several sitcoms. Producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen took the script for American Beauty to the fledgling DreamWorks studio, which bought it for $250,000, outbidding several other production bodies. DreamWorks financed the $15 million production and served as its North American distributor. American Beauty marked acclaimed theater director Mendes’ film debut; courted after his successful productions of the musicals Oliver! and Cabaret, Mendes was nevertheless only given the job after twenty others were considered and several A-list directors reportedly turned down the opportunity.

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: Alan Ball

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney

Cast

Kevin SpaceyLester Burnham
Annette BeningCarolyn Burnham
Thora BirchJane Burnham
Wes BentleyRicky Fitts
Mena SuvariAngela Hayes
Peter GallagherBuddy Kane
Allison JanneyBarbara Fitts
Chris CooperColonel Fitts
Scott BakulaJim Olmeyer
Sam RobardsJim Berkley
Barry Del ShermanBrad
Ara CeliSale House Woman #1
John ChoSale House Man #1
Fort AtkinsonSale House Man #2
Sue CaseySale House Woman #2
Kent FaulconSale House Man #3
Brenda WehleSale House Women #4
Lisa CloudSale House Women #4
Alison FaulkSpartanette #1
Krista GoodsittSpartanette #2
Lily HoutkinSpartanette #3
Carolina LancasterSpartanette #4
Mona LeahSpartanette #5
Chekesha Van PuttenSpartanette #6
Emily ZacharySpartanette #7
Nancy AndersonSpartanette #8
Reshma GajjarSpartanette #9
Stephanie RizzoSpartanette #10
Heather Joy SherPlayground Girl #1
Chelsea HertfordPlayground Girl #2
Amber SmithChristy Kane
Joel McCraryCatering Boss
Marissa Jaret WinokurMr. Smiley’s Counter Girl (Janine)
Dennis AndersonMr. Smiley’s Manager
Matthew KimbroughFiring Range Attendant
Erin Cathryn StrubbeYoung Jane
Bruce CohenBartender
Elaine Corral KendallNewscaster
David C. FisherWedding Guest
Tom MillerAdvertising Executive
Ronald ReaganPresident Ronald Reagan (archive footage)

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