Canadian director Grant Harvey is probably best known for his work on the three Ginger Snaps films, which follow the exploits of a pair of sisters who have lycanthropic tendencies. The first of the series, on which Harvey served as an assistant director, is considered one of the best werewolf films of the last decade and the two sequels (Harvey produced them both and directed Ginger Snaps Back are fun in their own right. One thing anyone who has seen either of the three films will note is that underneath the horror and the monsters and the teen angst there is a really strong humorous streak running throughout the movies. With that in mind, it makes sense that Harvey's directorial debut would be a comedy.
American Beer is a simple road movie that follows four young men on a trip across the land to the United States where the hope to spend some time in the sun on the beach. When their car breaks down literally in the middle of nowhere, they each head out in four different directions in hopes of finding a new alternator with which to repair their terminally ill vehicle. The four men each have their own unusual experience to go through once the group splits up. Drew (Jordan Kawchuk) is picked up while hitchhiking by his high school gym teacher. Kurt (Jason Thompson) runs into a character out of a Kerouac novel. Martin (C. Adam Leigh) meanders into a small town and is worshipped when he's mistaken for Ferris Beuller. Al (Scott Urquart) finds himself in hot water when someone realizes that he's stolen his father's pistol.
Don't go into the film expecting your life to be changed. There are no real revelations and there's not a whole lot here that's going to make you think about much of anything or alter your point of view on life, love, or the world around you. It's not that kind of movie and it doesn't try to be. American Beer is a simple buddy-comedy-road movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and simply exists for the sole reason of entertaining us. And it does. While the movie starts off a little slow (it really takes about twenty minutes to get going and I'll admit, it was starting to bore me by that point) but once it gets moving it proves to be a worthwhile comedy with some seriously clever laughs and that odd Canadian wit we all adore so much.
There's nothing overly remarkable about the performances and none of the actors are really recognizable or well known but within the context of what is essentially a very small film (and by that I mean low budget, small cast, and relatively unknown and unseen outside of Canadian TV broadcasts) they work their way through the material just fine. While no one is going to win an Oscar (or in this case, a Juno?) no one stands out as terrible either and compared to a lot of the other low budget indy comedies I've seen, these performances are probably a little better than average.
Harvey's direction is decent but unremarkable. I suppose the best way to describe it would be simple but sometimes simple is more effective and this is one of those times where less is really more. Flashy camera movements and rapid fire editing wouldn't have done the movie any favors so the style used to create the look of the film is appropriate, even if it doesn't lend itself to a whole lot of fancy adjectives in this review.
The movie is presented in a fullframe 1.33.1 transfer and judging by the compositions I'd hazard a guess that this is the original aspect ratio for the film. The budget shows in this transfer as there is some mild print damage and inherent flaws in the image that were likely there to start with due to some of the conditions under which the film was shot. Overall though, there aren't a lot of problems with the image – some very mild edge enhancement is visible and some of the colors are a tad flat but everything is at least watchable.
American Beer gets a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in English. Most of the action comes from the front speakers and the rears aren't really used much but they do fill in the mix a bit with some sound effects and some background music. There are a couple of scenes that sound a little flat but for a low budget feature this mix sounds pretty decent, even if it isn't perfect. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion, but there are some moments where a few of the noticeable directional effects sound a little bit forced. What's here is sufficient though and it gets the job done just fine.
The biggest and best of the extra features comes in the form of a commentary track from director Grant Harvey who is joined by two of the actors from the film, Brent Kawchuk and Jordan Kawchuk. The three guys are obviously friends and have a great chemistry together, joking around and sharing plenty of good stories about how the film came to be, the conditions under which it was shot, and some of the snags that they ran into during production. There's a lot of information packed into this track and thankfully there isn't a whole lot of dead air at any one given point. The humor that the filmmakers demonstrate in the feature is captured here as well.
There is also a trailer included on the DVD as well as a commentary track, an interactive drinking game, and a decent sized stills gallery.
I'll admit, this one took me by surprise. I initially started watching it thinking that it was the documentary on micro brews of the same name so I wasn't quite sure what to think of it once it turned out to be something completely different but the movie is downright enjoyable. While the A/V quality is less than perfect the movie really should find a bigger audience and American Beer comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.