The American Beauty movie takes place in suburban America. Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey, is going through a midlife crisis. His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is cheating on him, he quits his job, and he is having intense fantasies about his teenage daughter’s friend Angela (Mena Suvari). The film explores the fragile foundation of the “American Dream” and how it unravels. Written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes, this 1999 movie took the 72nd Academy Awards by storm, winning the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Check out various screen facts below.
Many of the names attached to American Beauty almost weren’t.
Although Sam Mendes knew he wanted Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening for the staring couple, the studio wished for other actors. Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks were both offered the role of Lester and turned it down. Before Spacey was cast as Lester, the studio had Mendes consider Kevin Cosner, Jeff Daniels, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta and Bruce Willis.
Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening ended up accepting significantly less pay than their usual. The overall budget of the film was $15 million. Pay possibly deterred some of those bigger names. It is known, Chevy Chase turned down the role because he only did family-friendly films.
Mena Suvari’s role as Angela was offered to Kristen Dunst, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brittany Murphy and Katie Holmes. Dunst notably turned down the role saying, “I didn’t want to be kissing Kevin Spacey. Come on! Lying there naked with rose petals!?”
Lester’s daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch, was initially cast to Jessica Biel, who had to drop out because of production conflicts with 7th Heaven.
Awkward Nude Scene
Thora Birch was 17 when they filmed a topless scene for the movie. Being underage, they needed both her parents’ permission and presence on set when the nude scene was shot. Birch would say this was the most anxious scene for her to film and made it more awkward because her father was there for it.
American Beauty is a Type of Rose
The American Beauty Rose is a difficult family of roses to cultivate. It often rots at the roots or the flower base; it needs to be monitored with care. When grown under the right conditions, the rose has a beautiful fragrance and large cupped blooms; they can have up to 50 petals. The American Beauty’s film slogan, “Look closer,” tells audiences to look beyond the American Dream and look at the dark foundation it is built on. The flower itself also suggests youthful beauty and abundance.
The iconic scene of Mena in the bathtub with roses was a creative choice made by the director, Sam Mendes. Originally, very simple, just Mena in a white tub full of water. The roses created an incredible cinematic scene and left a subtle nudge to the film’s title.
Inspired by a Plastic Bag in the Wind
The American Beauty plastic bag scene, where Jane’s love interest, Ricky, played by Wes Bentley, shows her the most beautiful imagery he has ever filmed, was a recreation of the real-world inspiration behind the screenplay. Screenwriter Alan Ball has stated that seeing a paper bag flying in the wind helped him think of the story he initially wanted to make.
Sam Mendes encouraged improvisations when he knew filming was getting tiresome, stuck, or a scene would be awkward. Kevin Spacey singing American Woman was one of these scenes. Another improvised moment was when Lester is masturbating beside Carolyn. Spacey was asked to shout out random euphemisms during each take for a more authentic reaction from Bening.
American Beauty Soundtrack
Composed by Thomas Newman, the American Beauty Soundtrack was nominated in 2000 for the very first Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album. It lost to Phil Collins for the Tarzan soundtrack. Tomas Newman would go on to be nominated for this Grammy 14 times, never winning. Still, his work on American Beauty is considered to have set the stage for movie soundtracks. His style augmented rather than reinforced critical scenes of the American Beauty movie. Leaving the audience to feel a sense of oddness in otherwise calm settings, bringing them deeper into the theme of American Beauty: Look Closer.