American Beauty

Lester Burnham is a middle-aged magazine executive who despises his job and is unhappily married to Carolyn, a neurotic and ambitious real estate broker. Their 16-year-old daughter, Jane, abhors her parents and has low self-esteem. The Burnhams’ new neighbors are retired US Marine colonel Frank Fitts and his near-catatonic wife, Barbara. The Fitts’ teenage son, Ricky, obsessively films his surroundings with a camcorder, collecting hundreds of recordings on video tapes in his bedroom, while using his part-time job as a waiter to serve as a front for dealing cannabis. Frank is a strict disciplinarian who has previously forced Ricky into a military academy and a psychiatric hospital. Jim Olmeyer and Jim Berkley, a gay couple who live nearby, welcome the family to the neighborhood; Frank later reveals his homophobia when angrily discussing the encounter with Ricky.

Lester becomes infatuated with Jane’s vain cheerleader friend, Angela Hayes, after seeing her perform a half-time dance routine at a high school basketball game. He starts having sexual fantasies about Angela, in which red rose petals are a recurring motif. Carolyn begins an affair with a married business rival, Buddy Kane. When his boss informs Lester that he is to be laid off, Lester blackmails him and quits his job, taking employment at a local fast food restaurant. He buys his dream car and starts working out after he overhears Angela tell Jane that she would find him sexually attractive if he improved his physique. He begins smoking cannabis supplied by Ricky, and flirts with Angela whenever she visits Jane. The girls’ friendship wanes after Jane starts a relationship with Ricky; they bond over what Ricky considers the most beautiful imagery he has ever filmed: a plastic bag blowing in the wind.

Lester discovers Carolyn’s infidelity, but reacts indifferently. Buddy ends the affair, fearing an expensive divorce. Frank Fitts becomes suspicious of Lester and Ricky’s friendship and later finds his son’s footage of a nude Lester lifting weights, which Ricky captured by chance. After watching Ricky and Lester through Lester’s garage window, Frank mistakenly concludes they are sexually involved. He later confronts and beats Ricky for their supposed affair, accusing him of being gay. Ricky falsely admits the charge and goads his father into expelling him from their home. Carolyn is shown sitting in her car, where she takes a handgun from the glove box. Ricky goes to Jane, finding her arguing with Angela about her flirtation with Lester. Ricky persuades Jane to flee with him to New York City and tells Angela she is boring, ugly and ordinary.

Frank confronts Lester and attempts to kiss him, but Lester gently rebuffs the colonel, who flees. Lester finds a distraught Angela sitting alone in the dark. She asks him to tell her she is beautiful; he does, and they kiss. However, moments before they are about to have sex, Angela admits she is a virgin and Lester decides not to go through with the act. Instead, they talk and bond over their shared frustrations. Angela goes to the bathroom and Lester smiles at a family photograph in his kitchen. An unseen figure points a gun at the back of Lester’s head; a gunshot sounds and blood sprays onto the wall in front of him. Ricky and Jane find Lester’s body, while Carolyn is seen crying in the closet. A bloodied Frank returns home where a gun is missing from his collection. Lester’s closing narration describes meaningful experiences during his life; he says that, despite his death, he is happy because there is so much beauty in the world.