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With: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, "Uncle Bill" Borchardt
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Chris Smith
MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug content
Running Time: 107
Date: 01/01/1999

American Movie (1999)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Sense of Direction

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A true testament to sheer will and perseverance winning out over circumstance, American Movie is a real-life Ed Wood (1994) with a real life inspiring angel in its subject, Mark Borchardt.

Directed by Chris Smith, this new documentary chronicles Borchardt in his attempts to get a horror movie made in Wisconsin. He wants to make a feature film but there's only enough money to finish his short film, Coven (pronounced by Borchardt as COE-ven). By selling 3000 tapes of Coven at $14.95 a pop, he can raise enough money to make his feature. (And, yes, Coven is actually on sale and can be purchased at the American Movie web site.)

Borchardt's exploits in making his film are laughable, but he's perfectly genuine and serious, plunging forward despite his handicaps and his lack of a professional crew. When his mother acts as a cameraperson he can't get her to understand that she can't talk while she's shooting the scene. And the humor of this scene is notched up another level because his mother has a very thick accent. Borchardt is also aided by his best friend, Mike Schank, who is a reformed alcohol and drug addict and spends his life in a happy daze. (Schank does a little of everything on the movie.) And unwittingly brought on as a producer and playing a small role is Borchardt's Uncle Bill, a cranky 82-year-old (also with few facilities left). Borchardt takes care of him and occasionally hits him up for cash.

In a horrifyingly painful moment that wipes the smirk from our faces and makes this film come alive, Borchardt gets roaring drunk during Super Bowl Sunday and walks around screaming about how nobody is going to keep him down any longer. He's going to make his film and be on top of the world. As with Ed Wood, Smith takes care not to make fun of his subject, even though the temptation must have been there. Instead, American Movie is truly funny, truly inspiring, and amazingly insightful.

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