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American Beauty: The Awards Edition

Screenwriter Alan Ball and director Sam Mendes reaped a motherlode of awards for their 1999 debut effort American Beauty by smartly dressing shallow, sensationalist pap in arty, melodramatic trappings. Kevin Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, the "typical" suburban heel, psychologically crippled by both his overbearing wife and his soulless job. What Lester wants is to recapture his youth, and if that entails getting in the pants of his teenage daughter's nymph-like school friend, bring it on. There are maybe two especially potent moments in American Beauty, in which Ball touches on some valid ideas, but overall his script is ridden with tired clichés, asinine assumptions, and terminally shallow — and inconsistent — characterizations. Mendes, for his part, overdirects everything. Hats off to Thora Birch and Wes Bentley for providing some understated moments as confused and disturbed young lovers, but not even they can make any sense of Ball's artificial style. Immodestly labeled "The Awards Edition," DreamWorks' DVD edition is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and 5.1 audio in either Dolby Digital or DTS. Includes a commentary by Ball and Mendes, storyboards with commentary by Mendes and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, a "making-of" featurette, textual notes, and DVD-ROM features, including a split-screen presentation of the screenplay alongside the running movie.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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