William Goss May 18, 2012
A suffocating character study, like “Bronson” divorced from Tom Hardy’s considerable charisma, “American Animal” is Matt D’Elia’s big debut — he stars in it, wrote it, directed it, produced it, and co-edited it. It’s a film wholly committed to the worldview of a man who ought to be committed, but feels calculated enough in its incessant provocation that an admission of his character Jimmy’s irritating capabilities plays right into the young filmmaker’s hands.
It’s made apparent from the start that Jimmy is dying; from what, we don’t know, but he’s never far from coughing up blood into the bathroom sink. He gets up in the morning, pops a lot of prescriptions, and assures roommate James (Brendan Fletcher) that today, he’s not going to be sick, he’s going to be happy. James puts up with Jimmy’s manic routine because the last thing he wants to do is admit that he’s found a job — a prospect of normalcy that would make the non-conformist Jimmy very unhappy indeed. Soon enough, their girlfriends — Blonde Angela (Mircea Monroe) and Not Blonde Angela (Angela Sarafyan) — come over, and the rest of “Animal” is dedicated to watching three civilized human beings spend the night tolerating the rantings and ravings of a performance artist in dire need of an audience, an iconoclast fearful that his bubble of comfort is primed to burst.
Jimmy deflects his mortality by way of his manic behavior, almost as if whatever sickness he has manifested itself externally. A wiry, bearded fellow with an admitted resemblance to Serpico, he indulges in countless celebrity impressions, invented names and languages, rants about civilization and evolution, costume changes, the occasional absence of clothes altogether, and the impulsive celebration of long-off holidays. It’s a wonder that the Angelas stick around for as long as they do. “You’re just a dick,” James accuses, prompting Jimmy to rationalize that “at least I’m a custom-made, one-of-a-kind, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, no-bones-about-it kind of dick.”
That’s the film in a nutshell: a portrait of relentlessly abrasive behavior justified as an honest portrait of relentlessly abrasive behavior. It’s every bit as confining as intended, and I respect D’Elia for making four people in one loft seem less stagey than expected. However, “American Animal” is still just one big show, the film equivalent of being cornered at a house party by someone’s coked-out friend of a friend until your ride home is ready to bounce. He makes a striking first impression, but not exactly a welcome one.
Categories: ReviewsTags: American animal, Brendan fletcher, Matt d'elia, Movie review