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American Beauty (1999) Poster

Trivia

After the film was complete, director Sam Mendes and editor Tariq Anwar decided to scrap a short fantasy opening and the lengthy epilogue in which Jane and Ricky are tried for Lester's murder, choosing instead to increase the three teens' screen time throughout the film; many of the cast and crew were caught completely by surprise when they saw the finished film.
This trivia item contains spoilers. Click to view
Jump to: Director Trademark (1) | Spoilers (6)
When Lester throws the asparagus, he was supposed to throw it on the floor. The reactions of Annette Bening and Thora Birch are genuine.
Kevin Spacey improvised everything he does in the car while his character is stoned and singing to "American Woman".
According to his Oscar speech, Alan Ball was sitting at the World Trade Center plaza when he saw a paper bag floating in the wind and was inspired by it to write the film, which was originally conceived as a stage play.
The title of the film refers to a breed of roses that while pretty and appealing in appearance, is often prone to rot underneath at the roots and branches of the plant. Thus, the tagline "...look closer" tells the viewer that when they look beyond the "perfect suburban life" they will find something rancid at the root.
Since Thora Birch was barely 17 at the time she made the film, and thus classified as a minor in the United States, her parents had to approve her brief topless scene in the movie and they and child labor representatives were on the set for the shooting of it.
The shot where Annette Bening screams after her failure to sell the house was done in one take.
Sam Mendes designed the two girls' look to change over the course of the film, with Thora Birch gradually using less makeup and Mena Suvari gradually using more, to emphasize his view of their shifting perceptions of themselves.
The hand and stomach on the film's poster do not belong to Mena Suvari, but are in fact those of actress/model Chloe Hunter.
The tagline and important theme of the film - "...look closer" - can be seen in Lester's cubicle at work. It was simply something a set dresser had put in, and director Sam Mendes noticed it while editing and suggested it be used for the poster.
Wes Bentley was the first actor to read for the part of Ricky, and was asked to do the scene where he describes his reaction to the plastic bag; the casting director felt that although she had read that scene numerous times, his reading was the first time she felt she understood the meaning of it.
Jake Gyllenhaal auditioned for the role of Ricky Fitts.
Executive producer Steven Spielberg personally recommended Sam Mendes to direct this film.
Chris Cooper was the last actor cast - virtually when rehearsals were beginning. When he first read the script, he found the character infuriating, thinking: "God, do I want to spend so much time in this character's head?" He remembers, "Then I started making excuses... I said, this is such a negative script, I don't like this and that." His wife finally told him he was "frightened of this script and chances are because you're frightened you should do this part"; his response was that he "knew, really immediately, that she was right."
The helicopter shot at the beginning of the movie was originally for a flying sequence where Lester floats over the houses and then down onto his bed.
The scene where Lester is putting in an application for the counter job at Smiley Burger was actually shot at night, but it was later fixed to look like day. Notice that neither Lester nor the burger kid have shadows on their faces from the sun.
Director Sam Mendes storyboarded extensively, based on his plan to use three visual styles - a very formal style for the bulk of the film, augmented by a more graceful style for the fantasy scenes and a handheld look for the video footage.
Kirsten Dunst, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brittany Murphy and Katie Holmes were all offered the role of Angela, but turned it down. Tiffani Thiessen tested for the same role but failed the audition.
Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta and Bruce Willis were considered for the role of Lester Burnham.
The Spartanettes' dance routine was choreographed by singer Paula Abdul.
Director Sam Mendes personally filmed the pivotal POV shot of Ricky's camera when he zooms past the figure of Angela to "look closer" at Jane's smiling reflection in the mirror.
Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening were both the first choices of Sam Mendes for the roles of Lester and Carolyn although the role of Lester Burnham was originally offered to Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks (who later starred in Mendes's follow-up project Road to Perdition (2002)).
The Smiley fast food restaurant is actually a Carl's Jr.
Jessica Biel was originally cast as Jane Burnham but had to drop out due to conflicts with 7th Heaven (1996) producer Aaron Spelling. The part then went to Thora Birch.
Marks the first Best Picture Oscar victory for a DreamWorks (SKG) production.
On the DVD's Audio Commentary, Alan Ball reveals that he came up with Angela's line "You're defending him, you love him, you wanna have, like, ten thousand of his babies" during an U2 concert after hearing a fan screaming to Bono Vox that she wanted to have ten thousand of his babies.
Wes Bentley smoked honey tobacco with Kevin Spacey for the pot-smoking scenes.
In one of many references to Lolita (1962), "Lester Burnham" is an anagram for "Humbert learns".
Angela's surname is Hayes, another reference to Lolita Haze from Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita.
Alan Ball originally intended to write a script about Amy Fisher, the "Long Island Lolita" who shot lover Joey Buttafuoco's wife Mary Jo Buttafuoco in 1992; but each successive draft of the script drifted farther away from that story, until it essentially disappeared.
The self-help tapes that Carolyn listens to are made by a "Dr. Alan Ball". Alan Ball is the film's screenwriter.
In the original script Lester enjoyed country music, much to the annoyance of Jane and Carolyn.
Terry Gilliam turned down the chance to direct the film.
The filmmakers made an effort to avoid any specificity in the film's locale, in favor of a more generic setting. However, the area codes in Jane's phone book are 312, which is the area code for Chicago, and the paper in the Burnhams' kitchen appears to be the Chicago Sun-Times. Also, the lawn signs for both Carolyn and Buddy have phone numbers with an (847) area code. The (847) area code serves the northern suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. On the other hand, the license plates in the film are not Illinois plates; the plates only identify "The Primrose State". Besides, as Lester is driving and listening to "American Woman", he can be seen driving through Burbank, CA - The reflection of the Disney Channel building in Burbank can be seen clearly as a reflection on his windshield.
The bartender at the restaurant where Ricky works is producer Bruce Cohen.
The aerial shots over the town were filmed above Sacramento, California. The crew originally wanted to use San Jose, California, but its police department wouldn't allow their helicopter to fly below 300 feet due to noise disturbance; the crew had hoped for a 100-foot height. However, the same 300-foot height limit was imposed in Sacramento.
The first day-and-a-half of filming - including Carolyn's open house scene - had to be thrown out after the film turned out too dark, making Annette Bening almost impossible to see; director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall concluded the problem had been their overly polite relations, and agreed to be more open with one another.
When Lester and Carolyn are driving to the basketball game, Lester complains about missing a James Bond marathon on cable. 'Sam Mendes', who directed this film, would later go on to direct the James Bond film Skyfall (2012).
Holly Hunter and Helen Hunt were considered for the role of Carolyn Burnham.
Jeff Daniels was also considered for the role of Lester Burnham.
The high school campus scenes, including the Spartanette dance sequence in the gymnasium, were shot at South High School in Torrance, California.
Leelee Sobieski auditioned to play Jane.
There is a poster for metal band Orgy's first album "Candyass" on the wall in Jane's bedroom, as well as The Prodigy's "The Fat of the Land", one of the most popular music albums of the 90s.
The video for "Cancer For The Cure" by The Eels can be seen on a television Jane and Angela are watching.
Majandra Delfino and Kate Hudson auditioned for the role of Angela.
While driving home from the shooting range, Carolyn listens to Bobby Darin's rendition of "Don't Rain On My Parade." 5 years after the release of this film, Kevin Spacey produced/wrote/directed and starred as Darin in the biopic Beyond the Sea (2004).
The movie was named as one of "The 20 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time" by Premiere.
The cover of the John Coltrane record "Coltrane Jazz" (Atlantic, 1961) can be seen briefly on a shelf in Ricky's room.

Director Trademark 

Sam Mendes:  [Water marks the event of a death] 

Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

In the script, Lester was supposed to go ahead and have sex with Angela, but it was decided that it would be better to have him stop just short of doing so - in spite of the filmmakers' concerns that they might be making the change out of uneasiness with having the main character actually go that far.
In the original version of the script, there was a separate story that included Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) having a gay lover who died in Vietnam.
Another version of the script involved Ricky and Jane being arrested and convicted for the murder of Lester. The main evidence is the video Ricky made of Jane offering him $3,000 to kill her father, which we, the viewers, find out was a joke immediately after Ricky turns off the camera, one second too late for the defense. It also involves Mrs. Fitts finding her husband's bloody clothes, and hiding them immediately after.
DIRCAM(Sam Mendes): Near the end of the film, when Ricky opens the kitchen door to discover Lester, the hand opening the door (to reveal the blood on the table) is that of director Sam Mendes.
The original script was topped and tailed with scenes of Ricky and Jane in jail and on trial, and other events surrounding their arrest.
When the funeral caravan passes by Jane and Ricky, he tells her that looking at a dead homeless person was like God staring at him, and he could stare right back. At the end of the film, when he sees Lester's body, he momentarily stares into Lester's eyes, fixated as if looking at God.

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