Characters: American Beauty
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Played By: Kevin Spacey
"Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser... and they're right."
A Henpecked Husband
advertising-magazine wage slave who feels trapped in a shallow and meaningless life. He is the film's Posthumous Narrator
and main character, and the story concerns his efforts to find happiness.
Played By: Annette Bening
"My company sells an image. It's part of my job to live that image."
Lester's wife, head of a real-estate firm and a Stepford Smiler of alarming caliber.
Played By: Thora Birch
"Janie's a pretty typical teenager: angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her that's all going to pass... but I don't want to lie to her."
Lester and Carolyn's daughter of sixteen years. She resents the way her father has begun to withdraw from her, and, in the very first scene of the movie, takes someone up on an offer to murder him.
- Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: She's really detached to others.
- Daddy's Girl: Subverted- she and Lester used to be close, but at the start of the film they barely speak and Jane resents him for his obvious crush on Angela. She even says to Ricky, "It would be nice if I was anywhere near as important to him as she is."
- Deadpan Snarker: She is Lester's daughter.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Towards Ricky, but not to her father.
- Emo Teen: Due to her familial issues.
- Ice Queen: Towards her parents.
- Progressively Prettier: She wears a lot of makeup to start, but as her confidence grows, she stops putting it on.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Ricky comments on her beauty.
"If people I don't even know look at me and want to fuck me, it means... I really have a shot at being a model!"
A girl on the cheerleading team with Jane and quickly becomes the object of Lester's fantasies, causing him to start an intensive work-out regimen in an attempt to seduce her. She acts more worldly and experienced than Jane, and isn't afraid to use her body to advantage.
"I didn't mean to scare you. I just think you're interesting."
The new next-door neighbor to the Burnhams and Jane's eventual love interest. He is a weird combination of Stalker with a Crush
and Shrouded in Myth
(in regards to where he was before he moved here), and sees more clearly than anyone else in the cast
. He is an experienced dealer of marijuana, becoming Lester's supplier, and carries a video camera everywhere to record interesting moments out of his life.
"In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times."
Carolyn's main business rival, the self-styled "King of Real Estate." He's powerful, success-minded, has enormously charismatic eyebrows, and appeals to her Stepford Smiler
instincts: "In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times." Eventually, the two of them start an affair.
Col. Frank Fitts, USMC
"You need structure...you need discipline."
A now-inactive Marine who fought in Vietnam. He's trying to raise Ricky in his own image, which is meeting with limited success. He's also a flaming homophobe.
- Abusive Parents: Regularly beats up his son, not to mention that he had had him committed to a mental institution for two years.
- Armored Closet Gay: Frank is gay himself, but hides it behind an overtly-masculine self-image, confusing masculine behavior for an indicator of heterosexuality.
- Hidden Depths: He might seem like a disciplined, no-nonsense military man but Frank has an unhappy marriage, an uneasy relationship with his son and serious issues of self-loathing over his homosexuality.
- Knight Templar: His life as a marine seeps into every aspect of his life. He makes his son take drug tests on the regular.
- You Are What You Hate: Frank is homosexual himself, and has spent his entire life hating himself for it, hiding it, and over-compensating for it.
The colonel's silent, disjointed wife. She doesn't get many scenes, but Janney uses even her character's silence to communicate that there are some severe repression problems going on here.
- Broken Bird: She's silent and meek, likely because she's aware her husband is homosexual and she's been helping him live his lie.
- Or possibly because, although it's not shown, Frank is just as abusive toward her as he is toward their son.
- Cloudcuckoolander: When Frank kicks Ricky out and Ricky is about to leave to run away with Jane, he bids his mother goodbye. She responds, "Wear a raincoat." Which is...good advice.
- Emotionless Wife: Though she does seem withdrawn and restrained, she does show she cares for Ricky.
- The Quiet One
Jim & Jim
Jim Berkley & Jim Olmeyer
Played By: Sam Robards & Scott Bakula
A gay couple who are the Burnhams' next-door neighbors on the other side. Bakula has joked that these are the most normal people in the film — and the thing is, he's right. They help Lester develop his new work-out regimen.