Extreme times demands extreme art, and American Beauty is extreme. It is an extremely funny, extremely touching, extremely disturbing look at the dysfunctions of suburban America. But it does not wallow in dysfunction. It dares to find hope amidst the horror.
The film opens by borrowing a page from Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard: the narrator introduces himself and his death. "My name is Lester Burnham. I'm 42 years old. In less than a year, I'll be dead." Lester (Kevin Spacey) is sleep walking through life and admits that "in a way, I'm dead already." His midlife crisis offers viewers laughs and the vicarious thrills of telling off the boss, quitting a dead-end job, and reverting to carefree, high school days of pursuing girls.