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When American Beauty bowed in September 1999 at the Toronto Film Festival, The Hollywood Reporter wasn’t quite sure what the public would make of the pitch-black dramedy.
While THR‘s review acknowledged the “charismatic power” of the performances by its actors — singling out not just stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening but also Thora Birch, Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari — it wondered whether audiences might not “tire of [director Sam] Mendes’ arch and often condescending style. When moviemakers like to feel superior to their characters, it usually results in a movie that attracts a cult following rather than a large box office.”
Well, so much for that theory.
Beauty, which cost DreamWorks $15 million to make ($22 million today) went on to trample the 2000 awards season, dominate the cultural conversation and amass a whopping $356 million in worldwide ticket sales ($518 million today). It also contributed classic lines of dialogue such as, “You want to have, like, 10,000 of his babies.” The film, from an original screenplay by Alan Ball, follows an ad exec (Spacey, then 40) who falls for his daughter’s teenage best friend (Suvari, then 20), his philandering realtor wife (Bening, then 41) and his daughter (Birch, then 17), who gets it on with the creepy boy next door (Bentley, then 21).
The ensemble, which also included Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher and Allison Janney, won best cast in a motion picture honors at the sixth annual SAG Awards on March 12, 2000. Spacey and Bening also took home individual SAG Awards. (“Don’t wait to have a baby. Do it now,” a very pregnant Bening advised her fellow actresses in her speech.) Spacey later won the Oscar, as did Mendes, Ball and cinematographer Conrad Hall; the movie took best picture. Bening, alas, lost to Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry.
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.