Just How Good Is AMERICAN ANIMAL?June 12, 2012
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand and from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: AMERICAN ANIMAL (Screen Media).
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By Joe Charnitski
My relationship with the indie art film AMERICAN ANIMAL is very similar to what I imagine my relationship with its lead character Jimmy would be like. I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it after its first impression. Maybe a little too full of itself. It struts about with the pretentious burden of “having a message” but is it really going to say anything new? Shocking for the sake of being shocking because, you know, mainstream society is locked in its middle class prison of blah blah blah.
Then, quietly, there are these moments that are genuinely funny. Jimmy develops a charm that is, like it or not, appealing. Well, maybe he didn’t develop it. Maybe it was there the entire time, it just took me a while to warm up to his crazy cocktail of immaturity, showmanship and button pushing. I mean damn, even as I write that I can’t explain what could make this guy so watchable, and perhaps even likable.
AMERICAN ANIMAL is short on plot but does present us with a dramatic premise. Jimmy, played by the writer/director/producer mad scientist behind this film Matt D’Elia, is suffering from an undisclosed ailment that will almost certainly cut his young life short, or as he reminds us, he’s just dying at a faster pace than me and you. His roommate and best friend James likes to curl up with a pile of good books. He smirks when he reads Charles Dickens’ bio on Wikipedia. He’s a fairly respectable young man who has even, and this is unforgivable in Jimmy’s world, gone out and found a job, a secret he’s trying to keep from his sick, mad, excitable, maybe even dangerous friend.
Both Jimmy and James were lucky enough to be born into the 1% (although Jimmy looks straight out of an Occupy camp site) and up until James’ decision to get a paid internship they’ve lived fat off of their parents, a situation Jimmy is more than happy to continue until he breathes his last breathe. He interprets James’ internship as a betrayal. The majority of the film takes place on the day and night before James’ first day on the job, and Jimmy is going to throw out every existential, philosophical obstacle to keep his friend in the apartment and out of the presence of the lesser evolved masses.
Beyond this description, this film truly needs to be experienced before you discover what it’s about or what it has to offer. I’m sure some viewers will find it boring, at least significant chunks of it. The dialogue is highly stylized and Jimmy’s got some long monologues about either American history and technological advancements or his own self-centered desire to do and say whatever he likes. He sees it as completely natural, and all things natural are good. He’s the “animal” of the title.
Eventually I started to wonder if this film was something much bigger, much deeper. Is Jimmy us? Is Jimmy America? He’s pop culture obsessed and spoiled. He wants Christmas every day. His concept of sexuality is warped by overexposure. Is this how we see ourselves, or just each other?
The relationship between Jimmy and James lingered with me, too. Fear might be the deepest emotion in their friendship. Jimmy is afraid that if his friend heads out into the real world he’ll lose the imaginary world he’s created for both of them. James shoulders the fear of worry: what’s Jimmy going to do next? what’s he going to say now? what will happen when he finds out about the job? They also look at each other with a bit of jealousy. Jimmy does get to follow whatever impulse inspires him. He doesn’t set limits on his own joy. Jimmy even gets the girl. James just shakes his head in disbelief. Of course Jimmy’s jealous, too. James isn’t about to die.
The pace of the film is uneven and some stretches feel sloppy or lazy. There’s isn’t anything particularly memorable about the cinematography or editing. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but it did get to me a little. Jimmy got to me, under my skin and in my head. He might be someone you’d want as a roommate, but he might be too much to resist for one night
Joe Charnitski is a new contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. His career in film and television production, development and marketing has included stops at Miramax Films, Syfy and VH1. He currently works at a entertainment focused social media marketing agency in New York City. Twitter: @JoeCharnitski
AMERICAN ANIMAL (Screen media) can be found under your cable system's Movie On Demand section.
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