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Noted theater director Sam Mendes, who was responsible for the acclaimed 1998 revival of Cabaret and Nicole Kidman's turn in The Blu e Room, mad e his motion picture debut with this film about the dark side of an Amer ican family, and about the nature and price of be auty in a culture obse ssed with outward appearances. Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man in his mid-40s going through an intens e midlife crisis; he's grown cyni cal and is convinced that he has no reason to go on. Lester's relationsh ip with his wife Carolyn (A nnette Bening) is not a warm one; while on t he surface Carolyn strives to present the image that she's in full contr ol of her life, inside she feels empty and desperate. Their teenage daug hter Jane (Thora Birch) is constantly depressed, lacking in self-esteem, and convinced that she's unattractive. Her problems aren't helped by h er best friend Angela (Mena Suvari), an aspiring model who is qui te bea utiful and believes that that alone makes her a worthwhile person. Jane isn't the only one who has noticed that Angela is attr active: Lester ha s fallen into uncontrollable lust for her, and she becomes part of his d rastic plan to change his body and change h is life. Meanwhile, next doo r, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) has spent a lifetime in the Marine Corps and can understand and tolerate no other way of life, which makes life difficult for his son Ricky (Wes Bentley), an aspiring filmmaker and pa rt-time drug dealer w ho is obsessed with beauty, wherever and whatever it may be. American Beauty was also the screen debut for screenwriter Al an Ball.
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