I wish I hadn’t waited so long to see American Animal. It would have been awesome to party with these guys at South by Southwest. Remember when Clerks and Swingers came out, and it was like getting a window into the private conversations of Kevin Smith, or Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn? Writer/director Matt D’Elia’s world is like a post-Charlie Kaufman absurd art film.
Jimmy (Matt D’Elia) and James (Brendan Fletcher) live a weird existence in their apartment. The opening of the movie is a series of impressionistic scenes, some only a second long, with intense non-sequiturs. It’s like they’re satirizing art films, but making the best art film ever. They have a conversation about reading the paper, scream between rooms, intercut subliminal flashes and drop baby talk like “I do poopy.”
Rather than expecting you to make sense of this, American Animal dares you to make sense of it. Being funny and weird helps. You’re not forced to endure the somber musings of a pretentious artist. Jimmy’s frenetic energy is happy, for now at least. It invites you in. This may be the best case ever for a stoner movie, but I recommend watching it in total sobriety to absorb all the details.
Two girls named Angela, one blonde (Mircea Monroe) and one not blonde (Angela Sarafyan) come over and hang out with the Jims one night. They play along until James reveals he has to get up for a job in the morning. That threatens Jimmy’s carefree life. Don’t worry, that doesn’t make it linear. They just apply this language to an actual discussion.
I think American Animal is an exercise in pure creativity, as in creativity in a vacuum with no consequence of narrative. Jimmy refers to creating his own world but that’s still open ended enough to allow costume changes and made up words. They take it to an emotional place, but still in the same voice. As the film goes on, D’Elia has more weapons in his absurd arsenal. I suppose it could be improv, but you’d have to pre-plan to keep this experiment up the whole movie.
D’Elia stages the film really well too. It’s one thing to have a weird movie about people talking, but all those weird scenes are framed artistically. There can be a background action while a foreground figure just poses.
There’s a lot I can’t explain, but it’s a totally unique voice. Jimmy changes the rules of language. You still understand it but you can’t believe the tangents and interjections. Jimmy asks, “Is it Christmas?” Not Blonde Angela says it’s not and Jimmy asks, “Why?” Good question, Jimmy. Good question.