American Animal, starring, written and directed by Matt D’Elia, follows a day in the life of Jimmy, a terminally ill young man who has decided that he is no longer sick but from now on will be “happy.” This decision comes about on the same day that his best friend and roommate, James (Brendan Fletcher), discovers that he has been accepted as an intern at a publishing house starting the next day. James keeps his internship a secret from Jimmy because, despite the fact that both of them are in their late twenties, neither has ever had a job. Nor do they have reason to; both come from extremely wealthy families and live in a huge loft in downtown Los Angeles. Jimmy invites two female friends over, Blonde Angela and Not Blonde Angela (Mircea Monroe and Angela Sarafyan), and the group proceeds to have a day of drinking, drugs and sex, all punctuated by performances by Jimmy for the group’s entertainment. As the day progresses, James’s secret is revealed, and Jimmy’s sense of betrayal causes his him to slowly spiral out of control.
Jimmy has dedicated his life to entertaining and keeping the show going. The film is broken into a prologue, three acts and an epilogue, each beginning with Jimmy looking into the mirror and saying, “It’s show time!” before proceeding to amuse his guests with a new elaborately crafted costume and game. Jimmy lives in a world of make-believe that borders on the psychotic as a means to cope with not only his terminal illness, but also with his feelings of impotency in the face of his father’s success and importance—a legacy he will never live long enough to even potentially rival. James, on the other hand, believes that he still has a chance to make his stamp on the world, like the great authors he admires, starting with this lowly internship.
At times, American Animal can be very uncomfortable—at its best, intentionally so, but more often due to bad acting and jokes that don’t quite hit the mark. Matt D’Elia is an interesting actor, and his Jimmy a compelling character, but at times his delivery feels forced. D’Elia is given little to no help by his supporting cast, particularly the Angelas, whose emotions and timing never sync up with what is actually going on around them. When the jokes are done right, they can be very funny, and the film really hits its stride towards the end as the two friends begin to delve into the subtext of their relationship and the drama becomes externalized. This ending helps make American Animal a thought-provoking debut film that, though in need of further development and refinement, shows a lot of promise.
Director: Matt D’Elia
Writer: Matt D’Elia
Starring: Matt D’Elia, Brendan Fletcher, Mircea Monroe, Angela Sarafyan
Release Date: May 18, 2012