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Travel back to SXSW 2011 with this AMERICAN ANIMAL review

Update: So the film was purchased by Screen Media in October and comes out next month (April) in NYC, then hopefully expanding from there with VOD in May, then on DVD by the end of June.

Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here with an oddity - a one year old review for a film. You read that right... I wrote this exactly a year ago and it somehow fell through the cracks here at Ain't It Cool. (Before I had the incredibly kickass privilege of posting on my own.) Since I've been able to post, I've debated whether or not to post, but you know what? I 100% still believe in the words I jotted down a year ago and still think you should give the flick a shot. Without further ado:

I’ve always placed the film portion of SXSW as a sea of mumblecore flicks with the occasional premier for a movie that will come out in a week or two after the fest. Sure this year started off along those lines with SOURCE CODE, PAUL, and a handful of other big flicks that will come out next week, but over all I’ve been incredibly impressed with the films they’ve lined up this year.

Hands down AMERICAN ANIMAL has stood out to me the most this year. At face value it just didn’t seem that appealing to me with the film’s synopsis, (paraphrased) “A dying man is upset when his best friend gets a job…” Frankly the idea of watching a movie about a guy being upset at his best friend for getting a job… well I didn’t quite find that enticing, so I missed the film’s first screening last night at the historic State Theater… Jump forward a day where I happened to be at The South Lamar Drafthouse and found a gap in my schedule, fortunately AMERICAN ANIMAL fit perfectly, so I decided to check it out.

“Holy Shit.” As the credits rolled for the flick, that’s all that went through my mind. “How in the hell did I just enjoy a movie where people just talk, that takes place completely inside of an apartment and a roof top the entire time?” Matt D'Elia, the writer/director/star of the flick did something I didn’t think was possible after seeing Joe Swanberg attempt it time and time again, he made all the characters in the film incredibly engaging and made me genuinely give a shit about each of them.

The film spans 24 hours inside the apartment of Jimmy (Matt D'Elia) and James (Brendan Fletcher) as they entertain two lovely ladies (Mircea Monroe and Angela Sarafyan). Jimmy is terminally ill (though I don’t quite remember with what, but it doesn’t even matter) and… Jimmy is crazy, or at least acts as insanely off as possible and for the first half of the film it's just fun, like watching Robin Williams do stand-up back in his hay day, (though not nearly as annoying). As an audience we get to see this goofy guy prancing around and having a great time and it’s good fun; it’s when the camera’s on Jimmy’s best friend and roommate where we are snapped into the reality of their world – all of a sudden you realize that James has been living with this for years. He’s been witness to his best friend slowly losing his grip on reality. Fletcher plays James with such authenticity; his frustration is almost palpable, like watching a family member care for a parent with Alzheimer’s.

The art direction of the film reflects how Jimmy views the world with tons and tons of bright clean colors in the beginning as he’s all goofy and everybody is in a great mood. Without giving anything away, the last third of the film is spent lit only by Christmas lights and a fake fire on the TV… Even the cutting of the film changes as the film progresses. It starts off with many, many jump cuts and very playful experimental cutting decisions that then become tamer with longer takes towards the end. I might be reading a bit into film, but I think that’s to D’Elia’s credit. He created a very rich world with rich characters; it’s obvious the guy put thought into every shot, cut, take, color, etc…

I’m sorry if as a review I don’t go point per point/scene by scene spelling out the movie, but that synopsis from earlier, well it’s exactly that. The acting is excellent. The shots work. The movie was great. It’s the first flick of its kind I think I’ve ever genuinely enjoyed. It's movies like AMERICAN ANIMAL that make me question how I think of SXSW. The film screens again this Friday at 6:30 at The State Theater, so if you get the chance to check it out, do it. I’m incredibly curious to see what D’Elias's future has in store and think he’s definitely someone to watch.

So there you have it, a year later and still 100% my thoughts. I do think the programming for SXSW 2012 has SIGNIFICANTLY fewer mumblecore flicks, which I couldn't be happier about. But yeah, back to watching this year's movies!



- Mike McCutchen



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