A freewheeling conversation with a captivating new talent
Here's what I wrote when I saw the film "American Animal" at SXSW about a year ago:
Take "American Animal," for example, a film by Matt D'Elia. I am shocked that the film is not the culmination of a long-running stage production that someone decided to adapt for film, because that's what it feels like. It is a relatively intimate affair, with only four actors and one main set, and it has that sort of ebb and flow rhythm that is common to stage productions. Jimmy (D'Elia) and James (Brendan Fletcher) live together, and their primary activity seems to be avoiding any and all productive actions. They invite over a couple of girls, Blonde Angela (Mircea Monroe) and Not Blonde Angela (Angela Sarafyan), and at first, it's like we're watching this weird hybrid of a drugged-up party and a performance art piece. But there are secrets simmering just below the surface for both of the guys, and over the course of a very, very long evening, we get a glimpse at the harsh realities that they're both hiding from.
D'Elia is an intense screen presence, and serving triple-duty as writer, director, and lead actor is one of those things that can easily overwhelm a young filmmaker. Not a problem here. Jimmy is always on, larger than life, slipping from one persona to another, and it's all an act designed to hide a fear of impending mortality, and there is a point to the outrageous behavior. There is a sadness beneath the mania, and D'Elia never crosses the line into making the character impossible to like. He just skates on that line really carefully. Fletcher makes a perfect fencing partner for D'Elia, as does the strikingly lovely Sarafyan, who seems unimpressed by Jimmy's aggressive eccentricity. What I love is how the film doesn't excuse Jimmy's actions, but it does explain them, and we're allowed to have our own reactions, good or bad. D'Elia goes through a radical physical transformation in the film, and it's just one expression of how committed the entire thing feels. This is what I want from indie filmmakers… personal visions that are uncompromising, films where you can feel the passion, movies that had to be made. "American Animal" deserves to be seen, but more than that, it deserves to launch D'Elia as a filmmaker of note, and I'm curious to see where he goes from here.
A year has passed since I wrote that, and the film is about to finally get a release to theaters. You'll get a chance to see it. And I'm curious to see what people make of it. To help give the film some attention as it attempts to compete in a marketplace where "The Avengers" is apparently grossing $100 million every six hours or some such madness, I thought it would be nice to have D'Elia out to the house to talk about the film he made, the films he draws inspiration from, and the films he hopes to make in the future.