AMERICAN BEAUTY tells the story of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey),
a suburban father who snaps when he becomes disgusted with his stale,
repetitive existence. Burnham lets us know in voice-over from the film’s
opening that this is the day he dies (using the SUNSET BOULEVARD flashback approach),
a technique that adds an inevitable tension to the proceedings and keeps the story moving
forward at all times. On a whim, Lester quits his job and begins a regression into young
lifting weights, smoking pot, doing nothing, and discovering the overflowing
sexuality of his 16-year-old daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari).
His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), has her own midlife crisis of sorts.
A real estate agent, she experiences a youthful awakening when super-agent
Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) seduces her repeatedly. Meanwhile, Jane (Thora Birch),
the Burnhams’ daughter, is pursued by Ricky (Wes Bentley), the mysterious boy
next door who carries a video camera around with him at all times. When Ricky’s
militaristic father, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper), discovers something potentially
horrifying on one of his tapes, and when Carolyn’s rage for Lester’s actions boils over,
the time bomb finally explodes.