American Movie Review

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Documentary about a working class Wisconsin filmmaker attempting to get a cherished movie project off the ground.


If Mike Myers' long-haired, smalltown opportunist geeks Wayne and Garth existed in real life, they'd probably be something like American Movie's long-haired, smalltown opportunist geeks Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank. In fact, Smith's delightful documentary boasts a gallery of characters so eccentric that at times it feels like a spoof.

At the centre of it all is Borchardt, whose directorial ambitions are hampered by his lack of funds, to say nothing of the fact he lives in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. It's his determination to make his movie that impresses more than anything else, and when he runs out of cash to finance his semi-autobiographical film, Northwestern, he decides to finish and turn a profit on uncompleted horror pic Coven.

Aside from his endearingly vacant buddy Schank, a man so slow-witted you can practically hear him think, those involved include his parents, his pal Keen, an assortment of unknown actors and his financier, 82-year-old Uncle Bill, who inexplicably lives in a trailer park despite having over quarter of a million dollars in the bank.

The standard talking heads footage is snappily intercut with film of Borchardt coercing his decrepit uncle into coughing up cash, bemoaning his financial and personal life and going to frequently hilarious lengths to get his vision on screen. What does become apparent is that for all his grand pretensions, Borchardt is a far more talented filmmaker than the numerous clips from his early work (including his slasher "franchise", The More The Scarier: Parts 1 - 4, and the inspired I Blow Up) suggest; on the evidence shown here, Coven isn't half bad. And in telling his story, director Smith's skill as a documentarian comes to the fore, veering between poignant realism and out-and-out comedy, and finding unlikely stars in Borchardt and Schank, the latter playing up his skewed philosophies and lottery ticket fanaticism to scene-heisting effect.

The most entertaining documentary film in ages, proving once again that some ordinary people have the most fascinating lives of all.