And that list is by no means exhaustive. Now let's contemplate the actual film that these people have been watching.
Lester Burnham is Suburban Man. An unremarkable individual not valued by his employer and ignored by his family, he has wasted his entire adult life by succumbing to the routine of work and home, and failing to indulge his own individuality. When two key events coincide (the loss of his job and the dawning of a 'crush' on his daughter's friend) Lester is suddenly free to "beat his drum", slough off years of conformity and be his eccentric self.
Yes, that's right, yet another dull, cliche-ridden suburban situation comedy hinting at inchoate unease deep in the soul of bourgeois America. All the predictable bases are touched during this smug box-office home run - petty snobbery, keeping up appearances, repressed yearnings for Bali Hi, and that profound American lament, "I've Never Been To Me".
And what does Lester do to express his newfound rebellious individuality? How exactly does he challenge the suburban world which he has rejected? Form a witches' coven? Invent a world language? Assassinate Castro? Reproduce indian cave art using bison dung as paint? No. He drinks beer in front of the TV set, and gets a job in a hamburger joint. Can America's big-budget Dream Factory come up with nothing more exciting than this?
Before dealing with the wider themes, I would like to tackle some details which bothered me. What is a gun doing in this story? Are Hollywood's screenwriters so bankrupt of ideas that they can't construct a plot without relying on the dreadfully-overworked device of pistol-packing? The opening shower sequence was embarrassing. Adult jokes are fine by me, bawdy humour is great ... but this was unnecessary and degrading. It simply didn't belong. A narrator who announces that he is dead isn't a clever touch, it's just sloppy work. Is Mena Suvari REALLY the embodiment of American beauty? I find that hard to believe. And what about the total loss of nerve surrounding her character? Isn't this brash film supposed to be proud of its handling of adult issues? So why does the temptress have to be revealed as a trembling little virgin? We hear a great deal of American trumpeting of feminism as a cause. Can't anyone see that this moral cave-in is profoundly anti-feminist? On a similar note, what was Thora Birch's topless shot all about? It defines the term 'gratuitous'.
And so, back to the broader picture. "American Beauty" isn't any of those amazing things that people have claimed it to be. It isn't even mediocre. It's a tired, self-satisfied, deeply unimaginative rehashing of a format which was outworn by the time "My Favourite Martian" hit the TV screen. Challenging the regularity of suburban life isn't clever and isn't funny. It is gut-achingly DULL.
The question which arises, then, is why so many people are sincerely convinced that "American Beauty" outshines "Citizen Kane". I offer this for consideration ... they feel that way because they are told to. It doesn't work every single time, and sometimes it misses spectacularly, but Hollywood knows that as a general rule, advertising pays dividends. Tell people often enough that they need to see this mighty film, and they will accept the premises - both that they need to see it, and that it's mighty.
Barnum said that nobody ever went broke by under-estimating the public. There's truth in that. Just provide the bread and the circuses, and the docile populace will take you at your word that the bread is delicious and the circuses thrilling.
The public wants what the public gets.