American: The Bill Hicks story is the biography of Bill Hicks and the career that spanned almost his entire life. The film traces his life through the memories and stories of his family and closest friends from his schooldays ‘til his final days. From as early as age 13, Hicks was certain that stand-up comedy was a form of expression of great importance, and a worthwhile profession. This conviction led him directly to a life on stage. From the early days of sneaking out of his bedroom window to perform at a local comedy club, through his tumultuous years of alcoholism and drug abuse, all the way to the days when he truly found his voice and became a huge star in the UK; he kept his friends close and his family closer.
Watching this film is like flipping through a commemorative scrapbook. Featuring snippets from those closest to him, their stories are artfully knit together by directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas. What sets it apart from other documentary biographies is not only the impressive amount of research and incredible interviews, but the delicate presentation. The animation technique used to bring the photos to life is at once groundbreaking and engaging. We see literally hundreds of pictures of our supporting characters, not to mention a lifetime of images of the hero of our story: Mr Hicks himself. The typical on-camera interview documentary style is eschewed until the pivotal moment of the film: Hicks’ diagnosis of the pancreatic cancer that claimed his life. This switch in aesthetic is seamless and gently moves us from a world of imagination, ambition, and dreams, into the cold realisation that greatness cannot last forever. This humanises Hicks and his friends and relatives, adding a bittersweet hint of mourning without becoming melodramatic or derailing the tone of the film.
American: The Bill Hicks Story is a moving and respectful biography. Like all biographies, there are elements missing, such as Hicks’ romantic relationships and his thoughts on religion. Despite this, Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have succeeded in creating a multidimensional world that seeks to understand a complex and deeply intelligent man. Questions will always be left unanswered, and director Paul understands this, but continues in his quest for more knowledge, more experiences, and more perspectives through which he can attempt to piece together the jigsaw that is Bill Hicks. His curiosity is endless, and his great respect – above all else – resonates throughout the film. American: The Bill Hicks Story is an investigative and beautiful piece of work that truly brings Bill Hicks to life. A great achievement.