Filmsite Movie Review
American Beauty (1999)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Realtor Resources Group Function:

A hotel's ballroom hosted the Greater Rockwell Realtor Resources Group, an important business-related function attended by image-conscious Carolyn (who brought along her bored husband Lester so that she wouldn't feel awkward without a significant other). She was obsessed with projecting the proper image and marketing herself: "As you know, my business is selling an image. And part of my job is to live that image." Lester regarded her obsession with looking good as worthless "propaganda."

During small talk and hors d'oeuvres, Lester insisted he was "happy" although he appeared very uncomfortable and embarrassed being with her in the setting. Carolyn introduced him to silver-haired realtor-rival Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) and his younger trophy wife Christy (Amber Smith). Buddy didn't remember meeting him before - an opportunity for Lester to crack a self-deprecating joke: "I wouldn't remember me either." When she laughed at his "weird" comment, he promised to behave: "I'll be whatever you want me to be," and then gave her a lengthy smooch and then boasted about their marital bond: "We have a very healthy relationship."

At the bar during the event, Lester was approached by Ricky (one of the waiters) who introduced himself as the new "Robin Hood Trail" next-door neighbor. After a long pause, Ricky solicited him: "Do you party?...Do you get high?" In another part of the ballroom, the tipsy Carolyn suggested, in a very forward manner, a business luncheon with Buddy:

I'm in complete awe of you. I mean, your firm is, hands down, the Rolls Royce of local Real Estate firms, and your personal sales record - it's very intimidating. You know, I'd love to sit down with you and just pick your brain, if you'd ever be willing. You know, I suppose, technically, I'm the 'competition,' but, I mean, hey, I don't flatter myself that I'm even in the same league as you.

He agreed ("I'd love to") - as both were knowledgeable that this would be more than a strictly business relationship.

Lester's Acquaintance with Pot-Dealing Ricky:

Meanwhile, Lester was in the alleyway of the hotel's service area smoking a joint with Ricky, and talking about the notorious zombie oral-sex scene in Re-Animator (1985). Ricky's catering boss (Joel McCrary) interrupted and threatened to not pay him - and the unthreatened Ricky bluntly and casually told him: "I quit. So you don't have to pay me. Now, leave me alone." Lester was impressed by 18 year-old Ricky's forthright and carefree attitude: "I think you just became my personal hero." Ricky described his real motivation for taking different jobs:

I just do these gigs as a cover. I have other sources of income. But my dad interferes less in my life when I pretend to be an upstanding young citizen with a respectable job.

Half-drunk Carolyn arrived and retrieved Lester (who was laughing hysterically from being high) when she was ready to leave. Ricky called out to Lester as they parted - disclosing his 'other source of income': "If you want any more, you know where I live."

Lester's Second Fantasy About Kissing Angela - and Jane's Apologies About Her Father:

Jane and Angela were watching TV when the Burnhams arrived home. The sexpot felt drawn to seek out Lester - desirous of more of his attentiveness and knowing how she was in control of his groin-centered emotions: ("I should say hi to your dad. I don't want to be rude") - Jane was totally disapproving. In the kitchen as he opened the refrigerator, Angela coyly complimented him: "Nice suit...You're looking good, Mr. Burnham. Last time I saw you, you looked kind of wound up." His fantasies went into high-gear - he watched in slow-motion (repeated three times) as she flirtatiously reached out with her right hand and ran it up his arm to his shoulder. He reacted by drawing her close, with his hands cupping her face, for a long passionate kiss, as the camera circled around them. He reached inside his mouth and pulled out a single rose petal. A smash-cut brought him back to reality - she was enjoying a bottle of root beer on the other side of the kitchen.

When Carolyn was notified by Jane that Angela was planning to spend the night, Lester choked on a mouthful of root beer.

Angela's Fantasy About Having Sex with Lester:

Later that night in Jane's bedroom as the two teens chatted in their underwear, Jane apologized for her frightfully embarrassing father, but the over-sexed, promiscuously-experienced Angela was knowledgeable about how males always reacted to her, and talked dirty about her own fantasy of having sex with her father. They didn't know that Lester's ear was pressed against Jane's door, listening to every word:

Jane: "Sorry about my dad."
Angela: "Don't be. I think it's funny."
Jane: "Yeah, to you, he's just another guy who wants to jump your bones. But to me, he's just too embarrassing to live."
Angela: "Well, your mom's the one who's embarrassing. What a phony. But your dad's actually kind of cute."
Jane: "Shut up!"
Angela: "He is. If he just worked out a little, he'd be hot."
Jane: "Shut up!"
Angela: "Oh, come on. Like you've never sneaked a peek at him in his underwear? I bet he's got a big dick."
Jane: (laughing) "You are so grossing me out right now." (she covered her ears to avoid hearing any more)
Angela: "If he built up his chest and arms, I would totally fuck him. I would! I would suck your dad's big fat dick, and then I would fuck him 'til his eyes rolled back in his head!"

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a small object thrown at the upstairs window. Outside on the driveway, the word 'JANE' was spelled out in a fiery pattern. Angela called Ricky a "psycho" again, and speculated he was obsessively worshipping Jane with "a shrine with pictures of you surrounded by dead people's heads and stuff." Her fears that Ricky was filming them were accurate.

Ricky's Filming of Jane - and of Lester Pumping Iron Naked in His Garage:

Angela opened the window's drapes and performed a sexy dance for Ricky's camera, but his framing ignored her and focused instead on Jane's face that was reflected in a round make-up mirror. He heard a clattering nearby and noticed Lester in his garage searching for something on a set of shelves. Lester discovered what he was looking for - a set of long-unused five pound iron hand-weights (dumbbells). He was following Angela's directive - to build up his chest and arms. He observed himself in a garage window reflection, and began pumping the dumbbells after removing ALL of his clothes. Ricky set his video-camera to record his strange neighbor, subtitling the segment as: "Welcome to America's Weirdest Home Videos."

As the camera zoomed in to the unusual work-out, Ricky's father tried to enter his room, but found the door locked ("I don't like locked doors in my house, boy"). When he entered, the Colonel held up a small plastic cup for Ricky's 6-month drug test sample to verify that he was clean. (Ricky had a supply of untainted frozen urine ready to thaw and provide to his father the following morning.)

Lester's Fantasy of Angela in a Rose-Filled Bathtub:

During the night, Lester awoke (another dream fantasy) and quietly walked through two doors into a steam-filled bathroom. There, he envisioned Angela reclined back and resting in a pedestal bathtub. She awoke and provocatively beckoned him to approach closer: "I've been waiting for you." As Lester walked over closer, he saw that she was soaking in a bright-red rose petal filled bathtub (a recurring symbol of his lustful desire and infatuation) that covered her naked body. He knelt down by the side of the tub as she whispered to him: "You've been working out, haven't you? I can tell." She invited him to assist her: "I was hoping you could give me a bath. I'm very, very dirty." He reached forward and touched her between her open legs to deflower her. She reacted by sensuously reclining her head and rolling her eyes back.

In reality, a smash-cut showed that he had been caught masturbating during sleep next to his shocked, disgusted and cold-hearted wife Carolyn. She rose up in bed and inquired: "What are you doing?...You were masturbating!" Lester at first denied it, then confessed guiltily. Their shouting match revealed that both were in a dismal, unfulfilling marriage - feeling stifled and unproductive (in both their personal and professional lives):

Lester: "Oh, all right. So shoot me. I was whackin' off. That's right. I was chokin' the bishop, chafin' the carrot. You know, sayin' 'hi' to my monster....Well, excuse me, but some of us still have blood pumping through our veins."
Carolyn: "So do I."
Lester: "Really? Well, I'm the only one who seems to be doing anything about it."
Carolyn: (she rose from bed) "Lester. I refuse to live like this. This is not a marriage."
Lester: "This hasn't been a marriage for years, but you were happy as long as I kept my mouth shut. Well, guess what? I've changed. And the new me whacks off when he feels horny, 'cause you're obviously not gonna help me out in that department."
Carolyn: "Oh. I see. You think you're the only one who's sexually frustrated?"
Lester: "I'm not? Well then, come on, baby! I'm ready."
Carolyn: (angered by his challenge) "Don't you mess with me, mister. I will divorce you so fast it'll make your head spin!"
Lester: "On what grounds? I'm not a drunk. I don't fuck other women. I don't mistreat you. I've never hit you. I don't even try to touch you since you made it so abundantly clear just how unnecessary you consider me to be. But, I did support you when you got your license, and some people might think that entitles me to half of what's yours."

Lester rolled over - completely self-satisfied that he had asserted his long-lost male authority in the marriage.

Lester As a New Assertive Man:

An aerial view over the suburban area accompanied Lester's voice-over:

(voice-over) It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you've forgotten about.

Early the next morning, Lester took up jogging in a baggy sweatshirt and pants, and joined the two Jim's (in identical dark blue and black outfits) running through the neighborhood, telling them: "I need to shape up, fast." Rather than increased flexibility or strength, Lester asked for workout-tips and divulged his ultimate goal: "I want to look good naked."

They ran by Ricky, who brought out his faked urine sample to his homo-hating father, who was washing their SUV by the curb, and criticized the threesome of runners: "What is this? Fuckin' gay pride parade?" Exhausted after a few blocks, Lester breathlessly stopped and introduced himself to Colonel Fitts. Using a coded request, Lester asked Ricky to borrow his "Re-Animator" movie - a veiled offer to buy pot. In Ricky's room, Lester was told the price for an ounce of regular pot in a zip-loc bag: $300 dollars. Top of the line, premium-quality G-13 pot that they had smoked at the realtor's gather, was more expensive at "Two Grand", because it had been genetically engineered by the US government and "extremely potent, but a completely mellow high - no paranoia." Lester was shocked by the inflation: "Things have changed since 1973," and realized how Ricky had been able to afford all of his photography equipment. Lester nostalgically rewound himself back to his adolesence - he compared his own full-of-life high-school days back in the 70s to his current loser life:

When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight was great. All I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me...

While cutting flowers outside, Carolyn heard unfamiliar music, and sniffed marijuana smoke in the air. She peeked in one of the garage door windows and saw Lester (in a T-shirt and shorts) performing bench presses with a weight bar, while listening to one of his old favorites - Bob Dylan's song "All Along the Watchtower" on a boom box (lyrics: "There must be some way out of here..."). She was astounded that he had transformed the garage into his own private workout area. She raised the garage door, stood with her hands resting on her hips, and reprimanded Lester: "What the hell do you think you're doing?" He explained his weight routine to answer her literally - first bench presses, then pectoral and back exercises. They exchanged hostile words with each other:

Carolyn: "I see you're smoking pot now. I'm so glad. I think using illegal psychotropic substances is a very positive example to set for our daughter."
Lester: "You're one to talk, you bloodless, money­ grubbing freak."
Carolyn: "Lester. You have such hostility in you!...Lester, you will not get away with this. You can be sure of that!"

She stomped off.

The End to Lester's Long-Held Job at Media Monthly:

As part of his assignment to describe his job when threatened with down-sizing, Lester had written a description of how he was contributing to the company. His boss Brad was incredulous as he read Lester's words outloud:

(Lester's words) My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn’t so closely resemble hell.

Brad responded by pleading with Lester to reconsider his statement that would get him fired irrevocably: “Well, you obviously have no interest in saving yourself." Lester was adamant about what he had written - knowing his incendiary words would likely end his employment:

Lester: "Brad, for 14 years, I've been a whore for the advertising industry. The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing."
Brad: "Whatever. Management wants you gone by the end of the day."
Lester: "Well, just what sort of severance package is 'management' prepared to offer me, considering the information I have about our editorial director buying pussy with company money, which I think would interest the I.R.S., since it technically constitutes fraud. And I'm sure that some of our advertisers and rival publications might like to know about it as well. Not to mention, Craig's wife."

Lester proposed a blackmailing bribe to keep quiet about a company scandal: "One year's salary with benefits." Brad wasn't encouraging, causing Lester to threaten further 'sexual harrassment' charges against Brad himself: "Can you prove that you didn't offer to save my job if I let you blow me?" Brad had never heard anything so outrageous before: "Man. You are one twisted fuck." Knowing he was finished, Lester responded: "Nope. I'm just an ordinary guy with nothin' to lose." Lester was relieved to pack up his desk items and cheerily walk out.

Carolyn's Adulterous Luncheon Date with Buddy Kane:

Carolyn's real estate rival Buddy was late for his business luncheon date with her at Celine's upscale restaurant, apologizing because Christy was leaving for New York in the midst of their splitting up. Buddy was bitter about the break-up and her accusations: "I'm too focused on my career. As if being driven to succeed is some sort of a character flaw. Well, she certainly did take advantage of the lifestyle my success afforded her....Ah, it's for the best." He went further in describing his fanatical dedication to his philosophy of success - something that Carolyn clearly identified with: "It is my philosophy that in order to be successful, one must project an image of success, at all times."

After the next 'videography' segment at the high school, the camera identified Carolyn's silver Mercedes SUV and Buddy's Jaguar (with vanity license plate 'R.E. King') were side-by-side in the Top Hat motel parking lot. Grunts, laughter and loud orgasmic screaming were coming from the second-story in Room 206. Carolyn's legs were spread-eagled in the air as Buddy thrust into her during intercourse, during their heated adulterous sexual affair. As she praised him: "Oh, I love it," he asked: "You like getting nailed by the King?" She was ecstatic: "Fuck me, your Majesty!"

Shortly later after an exhausting bout of sex, Carolyn was appreciative: "That was exactly what I needed. The 'Royal Treatment' - so to speak. I was so stressed out." Buddy recommended that she take up shooting at a firing range, as he did, to relieve pent-up sexual tensions: "I fire a gun...I go to this little firing range downtown, and I just pop off a few rounds....Oh, you've gotta try it. Nothing makes you feel more powerful - well, almost nothing."

Getting to Know Ricky and Understanding His Penchant for Videography:

On the school lawn, Ricky was videotaping a dead bird on the ground in front of him - first filmed from the bird's POV, and then from the camera's angle. He explained to Angela (standing with Jane) that he found the bird beautiful, but she again thought he was crazy: "I think maybe you forgot your medication today, mental boy." Jane again asked Ricky to stop directing his camera at her ("I want you to stop filming me"), and for once, he accepted her request. Angela was nervous about Jane offering Ricky a ride with them: "I don't want to end up hacked to pieces in a dumpster somewhere." But then Jane decided to accompany Ricky for the one mile walk home.

Later, as they walked home together, Jane and Ricky began to get acquainted. She told him how the previous neighbors fed stray cats. It drove her crazed mother to cut down their sycamore tree. When a funeral procession passed, they discussed the reality of death. Ricky had once seen a sad homeless woman frozen to death on a sidewalk - and then explained why he had videotaped it - it was an amazing and profound example of beauty to him:

Ricky: "When you see something like that, it's like God is looking right at you, just for a second. And if you're careful, you can look right back."
Jane: "And what do you see?"
Ricky: "Beauty."

Ricky brought Jane home to introduce her to his semi-hypnotized, almost catatonic mother, and to show her his father's study with a glass case displaying his gun collection. One of the locked cabinets contained war memorabilia, including one oblong dish platter - an example of "official state china of the Third Reich" marked with a swastika. He sensed that she had become fearful of him - although she denied it. He then suggested: "Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?"

In his bedroom, he described for her, in partial voice-over, his sensitively-told revelation about a "beautiful" videotaped image that he had filmed - of an empty, wrinkled white plastic bag swirling around and around ("dancing") in the wind in an empty parking lot. He watched glassy-eyed with Jane as he described how It was in the overlooked, ordinariness of life that he had discovered beauty at its core, although the voyeuristic fetishist used a videocamera as a filtering buffer between himself and day-to-day life:

It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing, and there was this electricity in the air. You can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just, dancing with me, like a little kid beggin' me to play with it - for fifteen minutes. That's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember - I need to remember. Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world. I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

After his demonstration, she took his hand in hers, and then kissed him - expressing her growing infatuation with him and his unique way of looking at the world and finding beauty - including within her.

Lester's New Job - at Mr. Smiley's:

Driving in his Toyota Camry while singing at the top of his lungs with the radio playing The Guess Who's "American Woman", Lester directed his car into the drive-thru of a fast-food establishment, Mr. Smiley's (known for its saying: "Smile, you're at Mr. Smiley's"), to order a "Big Barn Burger, Smiley fries, and an orange soda" through the speaker box. As he picked up his food and paid $4.98, he noticed a small sign offering employment: "NOW TAKING APPLICATIONS!" He was pleased that the only positions available were for counter clerk - "I'm looking for the least possible amount of responsibility." During an interview, the middle-aged Lester was bluntly told by a young manager (Dennis Anderson): "I don't think you'd fit in here." His fast-food experience was from 20 years earlier.

The Second Dinner Scene at the Burnhams:

Another dining room scene found Carolyn and Lester again at opposite ends of the table, with sickly lounge music (Bobby Darin singing "Call Me Irresponsible") playing in the background. Lester was slovenly dressed, gulping his food and drinking a beer. Jane arrived late, having lost track of time with Ricky. Lester was urged to tell about his day at work, and non-chalantly went into a vicious diatribe about how he had impulsively quit his job after blackmailing his boss for $60,000 dollars. Janie was caught in the middle of their squabble

Lester: "Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go fuck himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus."
Carolyn: "Your father seems to think this kind of behavior is something to be proud of."
Lester: "And your mother seems to prefer that I go through life like a fucking prisoner while she keeps my dick in a mason jar under the sink.
Carolyn: "How dare you speak to me that way in front of her? And I marvel that you can be so contemptuous of me, on the same day that you lose your job!"
Lester: " I didn't lose it. It's not like, 'Whoops, where did my job go?' I quit! Someone pass the asparagus."
Carolyn: "Oh! Oh! Oh! And I want to thank you for putting me under the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner now."
Lester: "I already have a job."
Carolyn: (not listening) "No, no! Don't give a second thought as to who's going to pay the mortgage. We'll just leave it all up to Carolyn. (She carried on a two-way dialogue with herself) 'You mean, you're gonna take care of everything now, Carolyn?' 'Yes. I don't mind. I really don't.' 'You mean, everything? You don't mind having the sole responsibility, your husband feels he can just quit his job and you don't."
Lester: "Will someone please pass me the fucking asparagus?"

Exasperated for being ignored, Lester rose and reached for the asparagus plate himself - and told both of them off: "I am sick and tired of being treated like I don't exist. You two do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it, and I don't complain. All I want is the same courtesy." Carolyn began to rant about Lester's false claim that he didn't complain, and suggested: "Let's bring in the laugh meter and see how loud it gets on that one." At the end of his rope, Lester hurled the plate of asparagus at the wall for dramatic effect, stared her down and ordered: "Don't interrupt me, honey!", but then reverted to a calm voice, but became annoyed by the start of another Bobby Darin song ("Where Love Has Gone") in the background:

And another thing. From now on, we're going to alternate our dinner music, because frankly, and I don't think I'm alone here, I am really tired of this Lawrence Welk shit.

The Aftermath of the Dinner Scene - Jane's Vulnerability and Ricky's Abusive Father:

Carolyn came into Jane's room to discuss the "awful scene" at the dinner table, but was shocked that Jane blamed both of them for behaving like "freaks." Carolyn began to sob and tearfully tried to impart wisdom from her own life: "The most important lesson in life: You cannot count on anyone except yourself....It's sad, but true, and the sooner you learn it, the better." Carolyn interpreted Jane's sarcastic comment about their sensitive "Kodak moment" as insulting, and slapped her hard across the face before lecturing her (Slapping was Carolyn's accepted choice of waking herself up to the reality of the moment):

You ungrateful little brat! Just look at everything you have. When I was your age, I lived in a duplex. We didn't even have our own house.

Jane went to her window to look out - and saw that Ricky was again filming her from his second-floor bedroom window. This time, she encouragingly waved at him, and he waved back. The image he was recording was playing out on his large-screen TV monitor behind him. She removed her outer shirt, T-shirt, and then her bra to stand boldly topless - defiantly asserting herself (for both him and her parents). Suddenly, Ricky's abusive father entered his room, yelled out ("You little bastard"), and angrily punched him in the face, drawing blood. He questioned: "How did you get in there? How? How?" - referring to his son's unauthorized access to the locked cabinet where he kept his Nazi war memorabilia. The Colonel challenged his son: "Fight back, you little pussy!" but Ricky remained pacifistic. He admitted that he had picked the lock to show his "girlfriend" (who lived next door) the Nazi plate, and denied that he was looking for money to buy dope. The Colonel went to the window and caught a glimpse of the naked girl Jane hiding behind the window drapes in the adjacent home.

Ricky's militaristic father justified the beating for discipline's sake - causing more emotional disturbance in his son:

This is for your own good, boy. You have no respect for other people's things, and for can't just go around doing whatever you feel like, you can't! There are rules in life...You need structure, you need discipline.

As the Colonel left the room, he reminded Ricky again: "Oh, Ricky. You stay out of there."

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