American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)
It's been five years since I've seen this and while my overall viewpoint of the film has changed a bit, it's still at its heart a really good film about a really earnest man. When I first saw this, I couldn't help but laugh at Mark Borchardt, his antics, and his friends. After seeing this again, I really feel more sorry for him than anything. It's hard to tell what Borchardt really thinks of Smith but there's no doubt Smith is using Borchardt and his friends, especially Mike Schank for their comedy more than their ambitions. That doesn't mean that that doesn't come out in the film; what Smith also does is capture the ultimate filmmaker's film about a man whose only ambition is to make a film. For every comic trait Borchardt has, from his way of talking to his drinking problem to his mostly naive view of the film industry, he also has more ability than the film wants to give him credit for. He knows enough about filmmaking to have some good ideas and shots but the film doesn't really want to focus on that. It's Borchardt Hell-be-damned goals that are really the most important elements of the film, not everything that goes wrong. That brings me to the one issue I have: that the film perceives these characters as unrealistic imbeciles at times. I don't think it's entirely harmful to the film but it's a question that lingers in the back of my mind, mostly because these characters are oblivious that they were going to be laughed at. I feel bad for a guy like Mike, who has clearly taken one acid trip too many as told by himself in the film and is a clueless burnout used mostly for laughs. The problem is it's almost impossible to not laugh and Smith has for better or not, crafted an expert comedy. Even after all these years, American Movie is still a very good film but it's hard to determine if it was actually good for the ones that were in it.