American Beauty excerpt

For Class #1 (handout to prep for Class #2)

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Robert Abilez
 Office: 323-275-1869 Phone: 213-220-0213-220-0408408

 E-Mail: hollyn [at] usc.edu

E-Mail: rnabilez [at] gmail.com



This scene is from 1999's AMERICAN BEAUTY. In it, Carolyn's character (Annette Bening) is confronted by her inner loneliness and desperation. The film, which is at its core about people who look back with horror and regret at how their lives have gotten out of control, focuses on Carolyn here, showing that she has more than just a hard-as-nails persona. The editorial montage feel of the sequence allows us to focus on the highlights (or, to be more accurate, the lowlights) of what she occupies herself with on a day-to-day basis.

Note that this is from the shooting script. In the final cut of the film, much of the dialogue was eliminated, streamlining the scene and focusing its thrust on Carolyn.


AMERICAN BEAUTY

EXT. SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD - DAY

CLOSE on a wooden SIGN that reads:

Open HOUSE TODAY
BURNHAM & ASSOCIATES REALTY
555-1618
Carolyn BURNHAM

The SIGN is planted in front of a RUN-down HOME in a run-down middle-class neighborhood. The Mercedes- Benz ML320 is parked in front of the house. Carolyn, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, unloads a box filled with cleaning supplies, a BOOMBOX and a garment bag from the back. Something across the street catches her eye.

Her POV: IN front OF a DIFFERENT HOUSE with much more curb appeal is another SIGN, with a picture of the same silver- haired MAN we saw on the bus stop bench earlier. It reads:

FOR SALE
Call Leonard Kane - the Real Estate King
555-1957

Carolyn frowns and slams the BACK OF the MERCEDES shut, a little harder than necessary.

INT. SALE HOUSE - LIVING ROOM - MOMENTS LATER

Carolyn enters, hangs her garment bag in the hall closet and inspects the empty living room. The cathedral ceiling is painted an alarming burnt orange, and the native stone fireplace has shed a couple of stones onto the floor, which she quickly picks up and wedges back into the fireplace.

CAROLYN
(quietly)
I will sell this house today.

She plugs IN the BOOMBOX, presses a button and we HEAR Tony Bennett singing "WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU," which plays throughout the following

MONTAGE

We see Carolyn, working with fierce concentration as she:

Doggedly scrubs countertops in the kitchen;

Perches on a stepladder to dust a cheap-looking white ceiling fan in the mater bedroom;

Cleans glass doors that overlook the patio and pool;

Skims leaves off the surface of the pool;

Sweeps the patio with a broom;

And vacuums a dirty carpet that will never be clean.

Throughout all this, she keeps repeating to herself:

CAROLYN
I will sell this house today. I will sell this house today. I will sell this house today..

She says This as if she believes she can actually will This house into being something more than the dump it is.

INT. SALE HOUSE - BATHROOM - LATER

Carolyn stands in front of the mirror, Now dressed in a stylish but not-too-formal business suit. She finishes applying lipstick, then stares at her reflection, critically.

CAROLYN
I will sell this house today.

She says this as if it were a threat, then turns to go. on her way out, she notices a smudge on the glass shower door and pulls off a piece of toilet paper to clean it.

EXT. SALE HOUSE - FRONT YARD - LATER

CLOSE on the front door, as it opens to reveal Carolyn, greeting us with her most winning smile - the smile she thinks could sell ice to an Eskimo.

CAROLYN
Welcome. I'm Carolyn Burnham!

MUSIC ENDS.

INT. SALE HOUSE - FOYER - CONTINUOUS

Smiling, Carolyn leads a MAN and WOMAN into the living room. They're thirtyish, and they've seen a lot of houses today.

MAN
(looking up)
How high is that ceiling?

CAROLYN
Over twenty feet.

WOMAN
That color is hideous.

CAROLYN
A simple cream would really lighten things up. You could even put in a skylight.

The WOMAN wrinkles her face, skeptical.

CAROLYN (cont'd)
Wait 'til you see the kitchen.

INT. SALE HOUSE - KITCHEN - LATER

Carolyn enters, still smiling, followed By a DIFFERENT COUPLE in their fifties.

CAROLYN
As you can see, it's been completely remodeled.

MAN
(opening cabinet)
These have just been refaced. no new construction.

WOMAN
(re: faucet)
What is this, gold?

CAROLYN
No, it's solid brass.

WOMAN
Kinda gaudy, isn't it?

INT. SALE HOUSE - MASTER BEDROOM - LATER

Carolyn stands with a different COUPLE: African American, late twenties. The woman is pregnant.

CAROLYN
..and you'll be surprised how much a ceiling fan can cut down on your energy costs.

MAN
I got a cousin, he was a ballplayer. Ceiling fan fell on him in a bar and severed a tendon in his shoulder. Never fully regained use of that arm. Ruined his career.

Carolyn just stares at him, still smiling.

EXT. SALE HOUSE - BACK YARD - LATER

Carolyn stands By the pool next to two thirtyish WOMEN with identical haircuts.

WOMAN
The ad said this pool was "lagoon- like." But there's nothing "lagoon- like" about it. Except for maybe the bugs.
(slaps her arm)
There's not even any plants out here.

CAROLYN
I have an excellent landscape architect -

WOMAN
I mean, I think "lagoon," and I think waterfall, I think tropical. This is just a cement hole.

A beat.

CAROLYN
There are some tiki torches in the garage.

The Women stare at her; she just keeps smiling.

INT. SALE HOUSE - SUN ROOM - MOMENTS LATER

Carolyn enters, alone. She's furious, much more furious than she should be. She locks the sliding glass door and starts to pull the vertical blinds shut, then stops. Standing very still, with the blinds casting shadows across her face, she starts to cry: brief, staccato SOBS that seemingly escape against her will. Suddenly she SLAPS herself, hard.

CAROLYN
Stop it.

But the Tears continue. she SLAPS herself again.

CAROLYN (cont'd)
Weak. Baby. Shut up. Shut up!

She SLAPS herself repeatedly until she stops crying. she stands. there, taking deep, even breaths until she has everything under control, then she finishes pulling the blinds shut, once again all business. She walks out calmly, leaving us alone in the dark, empty room.

©1998 Dreamworks Pictures, Inc.





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All material, except where noted, ©1999-2012 by Norman Hollyn. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Send me an e-mail at my office
Last Modified - October 15, 2012