"I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek-boy who's gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school" (American Beauty) .
So starts American Beauty, the 1999 Academy Award winner of Best Picture. This cry for a true father figure opens the door for a whole universe of needs and expectations of a father that Jane, the daughter, yearns for. American Beauty, being a popular film, stands out among many movies and brings into focus the many fallacies of a patriarch. Unfulfilling of the National Fatherhood Initiative's (NFI) hopes of a productive, loving, and fatherly man, Lester Burnham is the antithesis of a competent dad.
Using the scale that the NFI, a leader in establishing a fatherly model, applies to judge a father's ability to have a positive impact on his children's lives, Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey, falls well short of being an able dad. The scale, which is completely subjective, is made up of five criteria. Dad's are critiqued on involvement in their children's lives, engagement, guidance that they show, competence, and priorities. Each category is graded on a scale from zero to five, with five being the highest (Levesque 385).
In American Beauty, Lester Burnham displays very little of the scoring qualities except competence. From the very outset he is concerned not with the welfare of his only child, Jane, but with his own struggle for personal identity. In fact, this theme is the overriding premise throughout the movie. However, to grasp just how poorly Lester handles fatherhood, one should break down the NFI scale and grade Lester on one criterion at a time. .
In the category of involvement Lester would score at or below one point. In one scene, he could be sending positive reinforcement to his very low self-esteemed daughter, but instead defers to lift weights in order to win the heart of Jane's teenage friend, Angela.