Chronicling an Ordinary Life, Hilarious Shtick in American: The Bill Hicks Story

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American: The Bill Hicks Story
Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas
Variance Films
Opens April 8, Cinema Village

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When charged with making a documentary about a subject whose work is far more interesting than his life, how does a filmmaker proceed? If you’re Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, directors of American: The Bill Hicks Story, a portrait of the acerbic stand-up comic who died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 32, you include as much footage of his act as possible—and fill in the gaps with personal recollections from family and friends. While this testimony usefully contextualizes Hicks’s career, it fails to pin down the essence of this angry, stubborn man, devoting too much time to his drug- and alcohol-fueled wild-man days and his subsequent sobriety. Far more interesting is the onstage trajectory the film traces, as Hicks moves from teenage prodigy, cracking wise about suburban malaise, to a man increasingly disgusted with what he calls, in a bad moment, the “peon masses” of America, to an artist able to channel that disgust into an acidly subversive, politically charged routine that happens to be gut-bustingly hilarious. Hicks’s shtick is so good and his life so ordinary that it’s hard to escape the feeling that we might’ve been better off just watching a compilation of the groundbreaking funnyman’s work.

 
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1 comments
Wordguygeorge
Wordguygeorge

I found the actual film making shockingly bad. The animation schtick almost made me want to puke, literally. LIke too much strobe light. It was Toonces, the driving cat, on Saturday Night Live. And you never knew who was talking. I would have liked a few more talking heads and a lot less smiling cutouts driving cars. There's gotta be a good story lurking in there somewhere, but frankly these guys failed to tell it, and the animation just about ruined what they did manage to get across.

 

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