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YMMV / American Beauty

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation
    • Is Lester Burhnam a Henpecked Husband whose pot-smoking, burger-flipping, irresponsible rebellion long-overdue, or is he a jerkass Manchild who antagonizes his family in a case of Disproportionate Retribution — all while fantasizing about a girl his daughter's age?
    • Is Angela a totally ugly, ordinary, shallow girl and Jane is a proud freak (in Ricky's words)? Or is Angela a desperate, lonely girl so desperate for acceptance among her peers that she tells wild stories and puts on a prissy personality just to stand out; and is Jane just an angst-filled teenager who demonized both her parents without trying to understand them, and attached herself to the wiser, more interesting Ricky?
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  • Award Snub: Despite the praise it received, Thomas Newman's score failed to win a Oscar. Some also were disappointed that Chris Cooper didn't receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role.
  • Awesome Music: "Any Other Name".
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Angela nearly lets a friend's middle aged father take her virginity, and tearfully admits how stupid she feels for it. Later, Mena Suvari, her actor, told the public that she regretted whom her first time was with (albeit this was a "loser" by her words, not a much older man).
    • Thora Birch plays a teenager whose father struggles to connect with her. In the 2000s her own father (who acted as her manager) would cost her numerous roles because of his Stage Dad tendencies, and her career took a serious hit.
    • Ricky as a drug dealer is quite harsh when you realize that Wes Bentley fell into a bad drug habit after he couldn't deal with the fame of this movie.
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    • Frank Fitts being convinced that Lester was having a pederastic relationship with his son Ricky and then coming out of the closet himself is all much more difficult to watch given actor Anthony Rapp's allegations that Kevin Spacey made unwanted advances towards him when the former was 14 and Spacey coming out as gay.
    • The whole character arc about an older man (played by Kevin Spacey) nearly taking the virginity of a teenager and stopping himself at the last minute when he realizes this is a terrible thing to do, is newly awkward following numerous allegations from men that they had sexual relationships with Spacey when they were underage.
    • Lester blackmailing his former boss into agreeing to the terms of his severance package by threatening him with a sexual harassment charge is similarly uncomfortable to watch given the nature of Kevin Spacey's allegations.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Hollywood Homely: Jane, particularly with regards to that whole "saving up for a boob job" thing. It might be intentional; she's meant to be beautiful, but has poor self-image. There's also the question of whether she's planning to get an enhancement or a reduction. Without the benefit of freeze-frame, it could be read either way. And works either way too! Based on the way she and Ricky acted when she said that, it seemed they were both aware of the irony that she no longer needed the money for such a thing. Time took care of it.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Carolyn treats her family more like employees or pieces of furniture to make her life look better than it actually is. And that's not to mention having an affair. But looking at Lester's flashbacks of her, she was a happy woman once, and just became obsessed with being perfect. She does seem genuinely remorseful when Lester busts her for her affair.
    • Angela is vapid and superficial, and it's possible she's only using Jane to feel better about herself. But it's clear that the girl has defined her entire worth to be based on how she looks, and feels she doesn't have anything to owe the world besides her beauty. Her reaction to Ricky telling her she's ugly is actually pretty sad.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • The image of Angela covered by rose petals is highly subject to parodies.
    • Caroline in the doorway watching Lester put his feet on the table.
    • "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."
    • "Today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go fuck himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost $60,000. Pass the asparagus."
  • Narm:
    • While the message—that beauty is all around us if we know where to look—is fine, many viewers found the way that several of the characters regarded that little plastic bag blowing in the wind as being a little bit overwrought and pretentious. It's a bag caught in an updraft; it might make a very nice image, but it's hardly the cure for cancer or anything as groundbreaking or awe-inspiring as the characters seem to think it is. It's worse when you know the effect is completely artificial; there were two guys with leaf blowers standing just out of the frame to keep it moving for that long.
    • Kevin Spacey's frozen, slack-jawed expression that the camera zooms in on when he sees Angela for the first time, though he was probably meant to look dumb there.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Especially since a film that looked at the darker nature of suburbia was considered a marvel then, but the themes tackled in this film have been more common by now.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic:
    • Many viewers don't feel much sympathy for Lester, considering that he quits his job to live a selfish Manchild lifestyle while ignoring his family's emotional needs. His essentially fantasizing about committing statutory rape doesn't help either.
    • Ricky comes across to some viewers as a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual Know-Nothing Know-It-All who seems more deep than he really is, particularly with the way he gushes over what is essentially just some trash blowing in the wind as if it actually means something. Not to mention that his both filming living people without their consent as well as the dead bodies of animals and people alike is just plain creepy.
  • Values Dissonance: The criticism from most of the negative reviewers came mostly about the film appearing to glamorize the lifestyle of the man after he starts neglecting his responsibilities to his family in favor of buying drugs from and trying to seduce high-school students as a middle-aged man, as well as further trying to avoid responsibility by getting an entry-level job, despite his family's middle-class lifestyle and daughter approaching college age (despite the fact that he had blackmailed his way into a nice severance package beforehand and therefore didn't really need a job). Responsibility doesn't seem to go hand in hand with happiness for the protagonist, although it's debatable how "happy" he was at any point in the film.
  • The Woobie:
    • Jane, who feels worthless at the beginning of the film. Her relationship with Ricky is down to him being the first person to show her real attention as a person.
    • Ricky too, considering he lives with an abusive father and a depressed mother. He's also a bully victim and mocked at school for being different.
    • Lester at the start even if he hides it beneath layers of sarcasm. Anyone who has ever felt that their best days are behind them and felt that horrible sense of being detached from life will definitely relate.


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