By EW Staff
Updated August 13, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Lorey Sebastian
  • Movie

No one, it seems, can say exactly what this movie is, but at least Bening thinks she knows what it’s not. ”It’s not a polite family drama, it’s not a comedy, it’s not sentimental,” she says. ”It doesn’t fall into any of those genres.”

Alan Ball’s script, which has been described as ”The Ice Storm” laced with the darkest of humor, involves an emotionally torn middle-aged man (Spacey) with a wife (Bening) who’s cheating on him, a daughter (Birch) who hates him, and a Pandora’s box of forbidden fantasies that include lusting after his daughter’s slightly overdeveloped high school friend (Suvari). ”I believe [Steven Spielberg] read it on a Saturday night, and on Monday morning he said, ‘Let’s make this movie and not change a word,’ ” says Spacey.

Much of the film’s early buzz centers on newcomer Bentley, the 20-year-old actor who beat out 25 of Hollywood’s more established young actors for the role of Ricky, the camera-toting neighbor obsessed with filming everything he sees. Also notable is first-time feature director Mendes, the Brit who heated up Broadway with his radical revival of ”Cabaret” and last season’s hot ticket, ”The Blue Room” (with Nicole Kidman). ”The first few days I shot not very good,” says Mendes. ”In fact, I’d go so far as to say [it was] crap. But it got better.”

Indeed. With ”American Beauty” garnering Oscar expectations, you can expect some memorable footage, including a scene in which Bening’s character wakes to the sounds of her husband masturbating. ”I don’t know how many takes we did,” Spacey recalls. ”Because Annette giggled constantly.” BUZZ FACTOR: 8

American Beauty

  • Movie
  • R
  • 121 minutes
  • Sam Mendes