Edit
American Beauty (1999) - Plot Summary Poster

Plot

Showing all 7 items
Jump to:

Summaries

  • After his death sometime in his forty-third year, suburbanite Lester Burnham tells of the last few weeks of his life, during which he had no idea of his imminent passing. He is a husband to real estate agent Carolyn Burnham and father to high school student Janie Burnham. Although Lester and Carolyn once loved each other, they now merely tolerate each other. Typical wallflower Janie too hates both her parents, the three who suffer individually in silence in their home life. Janie tries to steer clear of both her parents. Carolyn, relatively new to the real estate business, wants to create the persona of success to further her career, she aspiring to the professional life of Buddy Kane, the king of the real estate business in their neighborhood. Lester merely walks mindlessly through life, including at his job in advertising. His company is downsizing, and he, like all the other employees, has to justify his position to the newly hired efficiency expert to keep his job. Things change for Lester when he falls in love at first sight with Janie's more experienced classmate, Angela Hays. Both Janie and Angela can see Lester's sexual infatuation with Angela, who courts such attention from any man as a sign that she is model material, she having once appeared in Seventeen and it a career to which she aspires. Lester's infatuation with Angela gives him a reenergized view on life, where he openly doesn't care anymore what anyone thinks about what he does, anyone except Angela. This infatuation coincides with the Fittses moving in next door: homophobic disciplinarian US Marine Colonel Frank Fitts who rules the house with a military fist (that fist being both figurative and literal), his semi-comatose wife Barbara Fitts, and their bright and quietly subversive eighteen year old son Ricky Fitts, who openly abides by his father's rules while behind the scenes lives by his own quite different perspective. Much like Lester's infatuation, Ricky immediately becomes infatuated with Janie, he who considers girls like Angela as ordinary. The entry of Angela and the Fittses into the Burnhams' lives ultimately leads to each of the players confronting what is truly in his or her heart.

    Huggo
  • Lester and Carolyn Burnham are, on the outside, a perfect husband and wife in a perfect house in a perfect neighborhood. But inside, Lester is slipping deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression. He finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter's friends. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is developing a happy friendship with a shy boy-next-door named Ricky, who lives with an abusive father.

  • Lester Burnham is suffering a mid-life crisis that affects the lives of members of his family, which is made up of his super bitch of a wife, Carolyn and rebelling daughter Jane, who hates him. Carolyn is a real estate agent, a little too wrapped up in her job, who takes on an affair with business rival Buddy Kane. Meanwhile Jane seems to fall in love with Ricky Fitts, the strange boy next door, who is a drug dealer/documentarian and lives under a roof governed by a very strict marine father and a speechless mother. Lester's mid-life crisis causes him to drastically change his life around when he quits his job and works at a fast food restaurant. He starts working out to gain the attention of Angela (a friend of Jane's) who brags about her sexual exploits every weekend. Lives change and not for the best.

  • Lester Burnham is a loser suburbanite rebelling against his dead-end job, bitch-on-wheels wife, unloving daughter, and imminent middle-age. His subsequent actions unfold into a darkly comic drama laced with a stellar supporting cast and enough roses to fill a nursery.

  • Lester Burnham is having his mid-life crisis. He is rebelling against his bitch-on-wheels wife Carolyn and his self-absorbed uncaring daughter Jane. After attending a cheerleader competition at Jane's high school, he meets Jane's friend Angela, whom he develops an infatuation for and decides he is going to turn his life around. He quits his high paying job to work at a fast food restaurant and decides to re-live his 20s. The impact his behavior has on the others around him changes and not for the better.

  • A sexually frustrated suburban father has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter's best friend.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a 42-year-old father, husband and advertising executive who serves as the film's narrator. Lester's relationship with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), an ambitious realtor who feels that she is unsuccessful at fulfilling her potential, is strained. His 16-year-old daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is unhappy and struggling with self-esteem issues. Lester himself is a self-described loser: boring, faceless and easy to forget. Lester is reinvigorated, however, when he meets Jane's friend and classmate, the egotistical Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) at a high school basketball game. Lester immediately develops an obvious infatuation with Angela, much to his daughter's embarrassment. Throughout the film, Lester has fantasies involving a sexually aggressive Angela and red rose petals. The Burnhams' new neighbors are Col. Frank Fitts, USMC (Chris Cooper), his distracted wife Barbara (Allison Janney), and his camcorder-obsessed son Ricky (Wes Bentley). When confronted with the gay couple living two doors down, Col. Fitts displays a distinctly bigoted attitude.

    Over the course of a few days, each of the Burnhams individually makes a life-changing choice. Carolyn meets real estate rival Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) for a business lunch and ends up beginning an affair with him, and later takes up shooting lessons (a suggestion of Kane's). Lester blackmails his boss Brad Dupree (Barry Del Sherman) for $60,000, quits his job, and takes up low-pressure employment as a burger-flipper at a fast food chain. He continues to liberate himself by trading in his Toyota Camry for his dream car, a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, starts working out to impress Angela, and starts smoking a genetically enhanced form of marijuana. Jane, while growing distant from Angela, develops a romantic relationship with Ricky, having bonded over what he considers to be his most beautiful camcorder footage he has ever filmed, that of a plastic grocery bag dancing in the wind. Ricky himself quickly befriends Lester and secretly acts as Lester's marijuana supplier.

    Col. Fitts, concerned over the growing relationship between Lester and Ricky, roots through his son's possessions, finding footage of Lester working out in the nude (captured by chance while Ricky was filming Jane through her bedroom window)- slowly bringing him to the conclusion that his son is gay. Buddy and Carolyn are found out by Lester, who seems to be mostly unfazed by his wife's infidelity. Carolyn, who is almost more devastated by Lester's indifference than by her being exposed as an adulteress, is further dismayed when Buddy reacts by breaking off the affair. As evening falls, Ricky returns home to find his father waiting for him with fists and vitriol, having mistaken his drug rendezvous with Lester for a sexual affair. Realising this as an opportunity for freedom, Ricky falsely agrees that he is gay and goads his violent father until he is thrown out. Ricky rushes to Jane's house and asks her to flee with him to New York City - something she agrees to, much to the dismay of Angela, who quickly protests. Ricky shoots her down with her deepest fear: that she is boring and completely ordinary and uses her "friends", like Jane, to boost her public image. Broken and dismayed, Angela storms out of the room, leaving Jane and Ricky to reconcile.

    Lester finds an emotionally fragile Col. Fitts standing outside in the pouring rain and attempts to comfort him, but is taken by surprise when Fitts kisses him. Lester gently rebuffs him, telling him he has the wrong idea. Fitts, shamed and broken, wanders back into the rain. Meanwhile, Carolyn sits alone in her car on the side of the road, holding her gun and becoming more and more infuriated at the day's turn of events. Moments later, Lester finds a distraught Angela and is on the edge of consummating their relationship sexually, but the seduction is derailed when she confesses that she is a virgin. Now viewing her only as an innocent child, Lester immediately withdraws, his affections shifting to that of a father-figure, and they bond over their shared frustrations with and concern for Jane, Lester seeming to be pleased when Angela confesses that Jane's in love. Angela asks how he's feeling and he realizes, to his own surprise, that he feels great. After Angela excuses herself to the bathroom, a happy Lester sits at the table looking at a photograph of his family in happier times, unaware of the gun being held to the back of his head.

    In his final narration, Lester looks back on the events of his life, intertwined with images of everyone's reactions to the sound of the subsequent gunshot, including one of a bloody and shaken Col. Fitts with a gun missing from his collection. Despite his death, Lester, from his vantage point as narrator, is content:

    "I guess I could be really 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 stop trying 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. But don't worry... you will someday."

See also

Taglines | Synopsis | Plot Keywords | Parents Guide

Contribute to This Page