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 and personality-less 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.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Twice. First the shower scene, then when he's having dirty dreams about Angela at the middle of the film. Carolyn catches him at the latter.
- Dies Wide Open: His corpse was discovered by Ricky and Jane this way.
- Dull Surprise: Done deliberately to highlight his detachment from the world around him.
- Even the Guys Want Him: He's the object of Frank Fitts' desires. Lester doesn't reciprocate and Frank ends up killing him, but not because of said rejection, but more because He Knows Too Much.
- Fanservice Pack: He starts working out around the second quarter of the film.
- Go Out with a Smile: His last words? "Oh man."
- My God, What Have I Done?: When he realizes Angela is a virgin and has been putting up a front.
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.
- Hidden Depths: Carolyn initially just seems like a perfectionist, snarky wife, but is shown later to have her own wants and needs like Lester does.Carolyn: You think you're the only one who's sexually frustrated?
- Immodest Orgasm: "Fuck me your majesty!"
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."
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Towards Ricky, but not to her father.
Played By: Mena Suvari
"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.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Her claim, and she's right to an extent.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: It's all a lie.
- Inferiority Superiority Complex: Treats Jane like her sidekick and flaunts her looks in front of people her own age, but when Ricky talks to Jane and not her, she complains, "He didn't even look at me once!"
- The Tease: Deliberately encourages Lester's crush on her because it makes her feel good. When he actually flirts with her back, she immediately gets uncomfortable and leaves.
- Toxic Friend Influence: She keeps Jane around because Jane makes her feel better about herself.
Played By: Wes Bentley
"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, Cloudcuckoolander 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.
- Freaky Is Cool: Doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks of him.
- Nightmare Fetishist: Films a dead bird "because it's beautiful", and is seen staring in fascination at Lester's dead body.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Gives a particularly cutting one to Angela after she's a bitch to Jane one too many times. She runs off in tears.
- Also gives one to his Dad. "What a sad old man you are."
Played By: Peter Gallagher
"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.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: He sports a very impressive pair.
Col. Frank Fitts, USMC
Played By: Chris Cooper
"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.
Played By: Allison Janney
"..."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 Girl: Though she does seem withdrawn and restrained, she does show she cares for Ricky.
Jim & Jim
Jim Berkley & Jim Olmeyer
Played By: Sam Robards & Scott BakulaA 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.