American Beauty at first seems like a modern day Lolita in which we meet Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a sexually frustrated middle aged man, going through marital issues, separated from his wife (whilst still living under the same roof). As the story progresses we discover it is less a Lolita and more the simple search for a better, more fulfilling life.
Burnham is a sexually frustrated, lonely man who’s only highlight in the day is masturbation in the shower. Depressed, repressed and subjugated by his wife and daughter, he tries to find ways to turn his life around. Sadly, Lester only seems to be competent at making enemies and we are introduced to several characters who would willingly kill him it seems given the right opportunity.
Burnham blackmails his supervisor into providing a healthy severance package. Working as a teller in a drive through burger restaurant, Burnham finds his wife is cheating on him and jokingly, even his daughter hires a drug dealer to kill Burnham! At the same time, the next door neighbour thinks that Burnham is corrupting his son into prostitution.
All the way through, Burnham is trying to break free of the depression, the mid life crisis, and to improve his inner happiness.
Burnham’s moral challenges are numerous. Does he “de-flower” his daughter’s best friend, does he indulge in drugs and potentially corrupt the neighbour’s son, does he blackmail his boss or walk away quietly from a job he hates?
In the end we see a vulnerable man to whom fate or circumstance has dealt a bad hand to, and there but for the grace of god could go you or I. A bad marriage, a bad job, a beautiful girl .. all of these “challenges” could befall any one of us through our life. Like any human being he craves love and friendship. He wants to be happy, and wishes to be young again / experience life through young eyes just once more.