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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.64%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 2.27%
Total Crap: 4.55%

4 reviews, 20 user ratings

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American Movie
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by Chris Parry

"Even white trash can dream... And drink beer... And make movies."
5 stars

Documentaries aren't for everybody, but on occasion an informational introspective piece of filmmaking can transcend the 'limitations' of the documentary world and show us a life, and a people, that are very bit as entertaining as anything created in the Hollywood labs. 20 Dates hit on that formula, as did Errol Morris' Mr Death, the Sex Pistols doco The Filth and the Fury, and the highly amusing Kurt and Courtney. With his look at the life of a young Wisconsin filmmaker's struggle to achieve his dream, Chris Smith's American Movie goes way, way... WAY beyond those high levels of documentary filmmaking, and takes us to a whole new place. It's hilarious, it's loving, it's embarassing and brave. And it's a very funny way to spend an hour and a half.

Mark Borchardt has always wanted to be a moviemaker. From the time he was 12 he was shooting no-budget horror flicks on an old rickety camera with no sound, using his buddies as actors, extras and cameramen. But now he's pushing 30, and while sweeping the local cemetery might pay the bills, the three kids crawling up his leg, mounting bills, and lack of future don't seem enough to stop him pursuing his dream of making "Northwestern," the great American horror movie.

Well, actually they are enough to stop him, at least for a time, so Mark decides to finish Coven, a short film he'd started six years ago, in a bid to make enough money to shoot his opus. American Movie is the story of this conquest.

Let's tell it like it is. Mark Borchardt is not a rocket scientist. As his own brother puts it, "I think he'd be suited for factory work or something." Borchardt is tall, skinny, wears his mullet like a badge of honor and has the kind of glasses that Fearless Fly was powerless without. He does not inspire images of cinematic brilliance, but he does talk the talk and he has undeniable energy, bravery and heart. When he's not stoned.

Surrounding Mark on his quest for fame are his childhood buddies, Ken Keen and Mike Schank. Ken seems to be the bad boy of the bunch (a trip to the police station to post bail for him is a highlight), and Mike is so docile, so drugfucked, so without thought or emotion, that his lumbering frozen smile, curly mullet and penchant for scratch lottery tickets are grounds for laughs the whole way through the film.

But documentarymaker Smith is not here to point at the freaks and giggle, as always seems to happen with the best documentaries, the end of the road may be the object, but what you discover along the way almost always becomes more interesting. Borchardt may well be a dreamer with no future, but he has more courage of his convictions that most people who hit it big, and the attention he pays his hopeless friends, pack of kids and eternally depressed uncle show him to be a genuine guy beneath the ninety words a minute speech pattern and coke bottle specs. Similarly, Keen might be the "bad influence" that Borchardt's mother says he is, but he's right there working for free alongside his buddy, to help his buddy achieve the dream. Mike Schank.. well, he plays the guitar good. And has great stories about the many times he nearly died doing acid.

"I had a good day. I won $50 on the scratch-offs. But don't tell them cos they'll want to borrow it, eh."

The essence of American Movie isn't what you see, but what you don't see. It's what you learn watching these seemingly hopeless guys pushing on ahead, defying the expectation of even their own familes, and turning themselves into local heroes in the process.

Smith deftly allows these guys to do their thing, explain their thoughts and be themselves. Any laughs come from the people on screen, but the people on screen laugh with you, at themselves. When old Uncle Bill makes one of his typically uber-depressed statements of doom, Borchardt will crack up just like you will, and even old Uncle Bill seems to realize he's being ridiculous as he struggles to join in. These folks are every bit as real and normal as anyone on any block of mainstream America - but the way they push themselves beyond their intellectual and economic limitations is what makes you, at the end of this film, realize that those folks you were laughing at had the last laugh at you. They've done something mighty. They've achieved.

Of course, they're also retarded. Some mildly, some incredibly. And who doesn't like to see a retard achieve? Oh, you lie...

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originally posted: 10/26/01 10:51:18
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User Comments

3/01/15 dan longino overrated piece of crap 1 stars
8/30/08 Monday Morning Greater than fiction. Funnier too. 5 stars
9/14/05 ALDO People think this movie is about losers, and they're wrong 5 stars
11/23/04 Ed Wood, Jr. One of the most hilarious, insightful and poignant films ever made re: The American Dream. 5 stars
8/11/04 Jen You can't help but love the idiots in this flick 5 stars
1/15/04 y2mckay Couldn't see the whole thing- DVD scratched. Meandering in places, but often quite funny 4 stars
7/24/03 Sully scooping up my dog's crap is more fun than watching this movie.... 1 stars
2/17/02 Clarance eah 2 stars
1/14/02 Andrew Carden Pretty Funny Movie, Saw It A Few Times. 4 stars
12/07/01 Dominik Duprelle Great Film. More truthful than American Beauty. And Funny as hell. 5 stars
9/20/00 Jeff very good and very funny 4 stars
8/08/00 lily percy it is painfully funny...definately worth seeing. 4 stars
7/26/00 Basil Mike is hilarious so is Uncle Bill. 5 stars
7/21/00 Kirsten Indescribable, must be experienced; PLEASE see this movie. 5 stars
5/31/00 Chris Excellent, hilarious, and interesting documentary 5 stars
5/19/00 The Hunter good 5 stars
3/19/00 Skye Chapman a great movie about real people 5 stars
2/02/00 Zach Fine equal parts hilarious, pathetic, and inspiring 5 stars
12/04/99 dawn how many mike's did you have in your highschool? i know i had a few. 4 stars
11/14/99 MrShowbiz An aspiring filmmaker's bid to shoot a schlocky horror movie is the subject of this doco. 4 stars
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  05-Nov-1999 (R)


  14-Apr-2000 (M)

Directed by
  Chris Smith

Written by

  Mark Borchardt
  Mike Schank

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