Study Guide

American Beauty Appearances

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CAROLYN: Jane, honey, are you trying to look unattractive?

This lovely mother-daughter moment is brought to you by Carolyn's obsession with appearances. While you'd think a mother would try to boost her teen daughter's self-esteem, Carolyn is so obsessed with looks that she can't help but criticize Jane for not meeting her expectations for beauty.

CAROLYN: I will sell this house today!

Carolyn repeats this phrase to herself as she prepares a house for showings in a tone that's so ridiculously bright and sunny that it can't be real. She's clearly trying to pump herself up and ooze confidence, but unfortunately, the whole thing comes off as kind of desperate… and that desperation definitely shows up more and more as she deals with disinterested buyers all throughout the day.

CAROLYN: Shut up. Stop it. You... Weak! You baby!

Carolyn is just as hard on herself as she is on the rest of her family, as it turns out. When her showings don't go well, she gets upset afterwards—and then screams at herself for being so weak. She's supposed to be strong and confident, you see, and so any crack in that façade is totally unacceptable in her eyes.

CAROLYN: Honey, I'm so proud of you! You know, I watched you very closely— you didn't screw up once!

Yikes. Carolyn is trying to compliment Jane on her cheerleading performance, but if we were Jane, we're not sure we'd appreciate being watched like a hawk for screw-ups. But that's Carolyn, right? She's all about perfection, and so that's what she cared about in watching Jane's dancing. We can only imagine what she would have said if Jane had screwed up.

ANGELA: No, I liked it. And I still like it. If people I don't even know look at me and want to f*** me, it means I really have a shot at being a model. Which is great, because there's nothing worse in life than being ordinary.

Here, Angela is talking to Jane about all the male attention she (supposedly) gets from random men everywhere. Jane thinks it sounds gross, but Angela claims she loves it. You definitely get the sense, here and elsewhere, that Angela ties all of her self-worth and self-esteem (and professional goals) to whether other people think she's pretty.

JANE: He's like, so confident. That can't be real.

Jane is pretty insecure when we first meet her, and so it makes sense that she's completely floored by how confident Ricky is, even when people like Angela do things like call him "mental boy." With the exception of his dad, Ricky does not give a hoot what other people think of him—and Jane totally does not relate.

CAROLYN: Now listen to me. This is an important business function. As you know, my business is selling an image, and part of my job is to live that image…

Here, Carolyn and Lester are walking into one of her work functions, and she's trying to get him on board with playing the perfect couple. She claims "image" is a big part of her business, so she expects him to play ball. When she later scolds him for being "weird," he sarcastically says he'll just be whatever she wants him to be.

ANGELA: Well, your mom's the one who's embarrassing. What a phony.

Jane is embarrassed by her dad's clear interest in Angela, but Angela helpfully points out that Carolyn is actually pretty mortifying, too, since she's aggressively superficial and fake. Not a very nice thing to say to a friend who's already upset, but Angela isn't wrong…

BUDDY: Well, call me crazy, but it is my philosophy that in order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times.

Looks like Carolyn has finally found her spirit animal in Buddy, who spouts off the same philosophy of "fake it 'til you make it" that Carolyn has been trying to use in her own life. Once he says that, you can tell Carolyn is completely smitten.

RICKY: Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it… and my heart is just going to cave in.

We've been focusing a lot on how focusing on appearances is bad/harmful for the characters, but there's a positive side to it as well—and Ricky is the one to show us. He's all about finding and talking about what is beautiful in the world, but he doesn't limit that definition to things that are "perfect" (like Carolyn does) or things that make you sexually desirable (like Angela does). Instead, he finds beauty in more unexpected places and moments, like death and plastic bags. It may sound kind of goofy, but these are things that have meaning for him.

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