American Movie is a memorable portrait of delusional ambition in small-town America, a slice of blue-collar weirdness that continues to prove that truth is stranger than fiction. If it weren't for scrappy wannabes like Mark Borchardt, no one would ever rise above their station in life, but it's the huge gulf between Borchardt's reality and his dreams that makes him such a fascinating study in willful denial. A talkative Midwestern heavy metal fan with long hair, glasses, and a boatload of personal problems, Borchardt is a dead-end small-timer with enough of a gift for self-promotion that he forms a small group of believers, only to fail them with his under-thought execution. Better than any fiction film could, American Movie captures a bracing image of the wintry Wisconsin inertia of these people's lives. There's great freak show humor here, too; in fact, one might mistake this for one of Christopher Guest's faux documentaries, so funny are Borchardt's trial-and-error attempts to cast his film, perform stunts, and generate rudimentary special effects. But the sadness is the lasting impression, especially in Mike Shank, Borchardt's cheery burnout of a best friend, and his curmudgeon uncle, a reluctant tightwad who trades financing for companionship. An interesting side note about American Movie is that through its distribution and limited popularity, the struggling filmmaker has actually had the last laugh. Viewers may shake their heads at the raving and foolish chutzpah he allows director Chris Smith to capture, but Borchardt has since gained notoriety for his laughably bad Coven, a cult must-see in certain horror/filmmaking circles, and he appeared at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in 2000 and 2001.