[watch] The Ballad of Lester Burnham: ‘AMERICA BEAUTY’ and the Art of Character


AMERICAN BEAUTY holds a unique place among Best Picture winners. Like ORDINARY PEOPLE, it’s a family drama built around tragedy – you know from the first minute that Lester, our narrator and protagonist, will die before the final frame – but unlike that very serious movie, AMERICAN BEAUTY also infuses droll humor, social politics, the emotional rigors of a coming-of-age story, and the buoyancy of a self-actualization story. It is, like the lives it showcases, a many-layered thing that is greater for the sum of its parts.

While the narrative is certainly engaging, it is made more so by the characters, who are the real propellants of the film. The way they are designed, as individuals and partners in their various relationships – husband-wife, parent-child, cheater-lover, romantic-object of affection, lecher-object of desire – and the way Oscar-winning screenwriter Alan Ball reveals their distinct personas through dialogue is the subject of the latest analysis from

Michael Tucker’s Lessons from the Screenplay, as well as how the original draft of the script (which was 27 pages longer) would have made for a drastically different film. Hint: it’s an analysis that’s gonna take more than one video…

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist