American Movie (1999)

Originally Reviewed – 10/24/2011

Ever try to make a movie? Sure, not many of us have done it on a professional level before but we all make films of some sort. Be it a documentary about a family vacation or a record of some milestone birthday, we all incorporate movie making in our everyday lives. Some of us now even do a little iMovie editing and if you’re one of those people, you know how time consuming the process can be. American Movie, a prize winning documentary about the filmmaking aspirations of Wisconsin native Mark Borchardt, tell the story for the rest of us. Knee deep in the production of Northwestern, his latest low budget project, Mark runs out of a cash and in a last ditch attempt to fund his feature, he decides to finish his short film Coven. With the help of his scratch off addicted friend Mike Schank, Mark plunges head first into the world of independent filmmaking, creating a fascinating and hilarious doc about the drive needed to see your dreams through.

At first glance, Mark looks like a psycho. Long hair, thin build and a mouth that goes a mile a minute, Mark is pure energy. Sure he may not have the vision of a Spielberg, but he has the guts and in the documentary, that’s more than enough to keep the audience interested. Mark’s likability is infectious and within fifteen minutes, you can’t help but root for him, even when he’s borrowing money from his grandfather or pestering his mom to help with set design. The people in this Wisconsin town are rooted in reality and it’s a real treat to see Midwestern life so honest portrayed. The characters around Mark are all skeptical of Mark’s skill yet despite that worry, nobody dares to discount his heart. The filmmakers give the family space to genuinely interact and do a wonderful job of never mocking Mark or his cadre of crew members. That’s not to say the film isn’t brilliantly funny. American Movie is one of the most quotable films I’ve seen in quite some time, so if you ever want to score points with your film buff buddies, classic quips like, “sucking down peppermint schnapps and trying calling Morocco at 2 in the morning” and Mike’s feelings on the lottery will go a long way in doing so.

My one knock against the movie is that it does seem fairly padded, especially towards the end. Some critics have also derided the film for being exploitive, but I strongly disagree. Sure, at first we’re all laughing at Mike’s blank stare or Mark’s wild mannerisms but the film allows both characters to build, creating real people that are complex and interesting. With American Movie, director Chris Smith deftly captures not just the weirdness of Mark but the person inside, creating a film that’s balanced, engaging and at times, hilarious. Mark may never make his opus to 70’s horror but he’ll always have the drive, never wavering even when the world conspires against him. A film that’s just as inspiring as it is humorous, American Movie reminds us all that following our true passions is what makes life worth living, regardless of where that drive takes us.

Score – 90%

About Bill Tucker

Jersey based and New York bred, Bill Tucker is an author of film reviews, short fiction and articles for variety of sites and subjects. He currently blogs for The Austinot (Austin lifestyle), the Entertainment Weekly Blogging Community (TV and film) and (retro gaming). He's also contributed articles to Texas Highways magazine. His favorite pastimes include craft beer snobbery, gaming and annoying his friends with random quotes from The King of Comedy. You can check out all of his literary naughty bits at View all posts by Bill Tucker

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