American Movie (1999)

american movie

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs a life.

Supposedly this is a documentary about all the troubles a young would-be filmmaker has trying to film a low budget independent movie. In actuality it is the rather stark portrait of how elusive the American dream is to the low income citizen and yet how hard they still dream for it. It creates a truly absurd scenario of desperation that could only work if it was real and not the work of fiction.

The film is tightly woven without the extraneous footage one usually finds with most documentaries. We are given a well-rounded look at these people and feel like we know them. There is some question as to whether these subjects are shown so we can learn something from it or just to laugh at them, but either way it is thoroughly engrossing.

Mark Borchardt, the would-be director, is definitely the main attraction. He talks with a heavy Wisconsin accent and is the quintessential ‘pothead’. He is a man, who by his own admission spent his entire adolescence drinking and partying. Now that he must get serious about life, he resists by clinging onto his movie making dreams. His movie idea is uninspired slasher film stuff that is taken from other more successful films. He hopes to duplicate that success and thus ride it’s coattails out of his otherwise woeful existence. He is as empty headed as he looks and sounds. Yet he still puts on a mighty song and dance. He is like an aggressive used car salesman, dishonest politician and ranting street preacher who talks a lot, but says little.

He is surrounded by equally interesting people. You have his Swedish accented mother who passively supports her son in his endeavors, yet reluctantly admits he has no chance. Then there’s cantankerous frail, old Uncle Bill. He is a man who doesn’t talk much, but when he does make a peep it is a doozy. You also have a rather touching bond between Mark and his best friend Mike. A fellow ‘pothead’ who looks and sounds like he is barely functional, yet still assists his friend in all his filmmaking problems even though he himself really isn’t that interested in it.

This thing is literally amazing from start to finish. A few of the gems include: the many, many takes they have to do before old Uncle Bill can say one line of simple dialogue correctly. Then there’s the would-be director himself, who works part time as a custodian at a cemetery, describing his ‘profound’ experience at cleaning up a clogged, messy toilet. There’s even a near comatose friend Mike who breaks out and gives the shrillest special effects scream you will ever hear.

If you like to view people just being themselves then this slice of life comes highly recommended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1999

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Chris Smith

Studio: Bluemark Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

2 responses to “American Movie (1999)

  1. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Sounds like some potential for good comedic moments. Thanks for the review, Richard.

  2. Great review! We have loved this movie for the last 11 years. You are right on when describing how out of reach Marks dreams are.

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