Ty Burr
May 12, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

American Beauty

Current Status
In Season
121 minutes
Annette Bening, Kevin Spacey, Scott Bakula, Wes Bentley, Thora Birch, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Sam Robards, Mena Suvari
Sam Mendes
Jinks/Cohen Company
Alan Ball
Drama, Comedy

We gave it an A-

When the most lionized movie of the year comes to video a month or two after walking off with an armful of Oscars…well, it’s hard not to see the flaws on a second viewing of American Beauty. Sure, there are suburban matrons as tightly wound as Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening), or ex-Marines as violently repressed as Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), but the film still uses them as satirical crutches. The evisceration of middle-class propriety leans toward smugness, and haven’t we been here before, in movies from Peyton Place to The Ice Storm? Finally, does there really have to be a murder at film’s end? Wouldn’t it be braver, less dramatically convenient, to let these lives unravel on?

Okay, stop. Play it again and notice all the stuff that works, from Kevin Spacey’s marvelously entertaining performance as Babbitt Unbound to the film’s faith in the constant inner divinity of things. There’s the famous dancing plastic bag, of course, but I’m thinking of the scene where Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) zooms his video cam through the window across the way and catches—and shares with us—the ghostly, hidden smile of plain Jane Burnham (Thora Birch). That’s the real beauty of this film, and it isn’t just American. A-

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