So this is what happens when the American dream turns sour. Director Mendes and leads Spacey and Bening have really twisted the knife into American society with this dark comedy about love, hate, passion, and murder.
Lester (Spacey) and his over-ambitious realtor wife Carolyn (Bening) used to be happy and in love, but now they hate spending time together and endure their lives for the sake of daughter Jane (Birch). On top of that, computer journalist Lester despises his employers, so when oddball neighbour Ricky (Bentley) re-introduces him to marijuana and teenage tease Angela (Mena Suvari) catches his eye, Burnham decides it's time for a change - with drastic consequences.
You can't help feeling that Lester typifies thousands of frustrated American men who occasionally flip during their mid-life crises and become something their families no longer recognise. As ever, Spacey is brilliant with his edgy, almost psychotic creation, delivering Alan Ball's quick-witted script in superb, deadpan fashion. Bening too is on good form as the disloyal, despairing wife, and teenagers Birch, Bentley, and Suvari are utterly believable.
But most of us know that America is on the verge of imploding and characters, such as Lester, who find themselves in stagnant lives have only one, predictable response: rebellion. A film like "Fight Club" takes a far more original response to social conformity, and "American Beauty" is less imaginative. That said, Spacey's performance compensates for the script weaknesses, Sam Mendes shows immense promise as a director, and Birch and Bentley should team up again because they work so well together.