Matt D’Elia – American Animal

“Quirky,” “indie,” and “artsy” are three words that when used together in the description of a new film featuring Caucasian twenty-somethings figuring things out should be taken as an appropriate warning  that said film is likely nauseatingly tedious and preoccupied with its quirks and style, leaving substance up to the viewer to install.  The pre-release press of American Animal used all these words knowingly, but all tiptoed around any associations with the film and the mumblecore scene that has been exhausted and bludgeoned nearly to death, save for the successful and tormenting HBO series Girls.  And while American Animal is script-driven and its central character an unnatural antithesis to the chiller, more non-nonchalant anti-heroes of mumblecore, the film still subscribes to the more abstract prescriptions of the genre, despite avoiding its more concrete formulas.  Go ahead and let director Matt D’Elia acknowledge the influence of Bob Fosse, but what will ultimately separate D’Elia from Fosse and unite him with the mumblers is the mere consequence of trying too hard.  The film’s humor is forced, and its characters in love with themselves.  Thus the film fails just as its predecessors have in attempting to capture realistic dialogue in a naturalistic setting by casting unrelatable, self-involved hipsters unable to experience or even pretend a substantial interaction.  The film is far from its self-proclaimed status as an “art film,” and should have gone for a more marketable approach as a “new sort of mumblecore.”

For those of you who would like to argue the legitimacy of my claims, below I have elaborated a scoresheet that grades the film against mumblecore criteria.  One point is added for mumblecore cliche, a point deduced for an element contrary to the genre.

Beards: +1

Soft drug use: +1

All characters white: +1

Doesn’t take place in Brooklyn: -1

Fast-paced altiloquence: +1

No allusions to something greater: +1

Ultimately masturbatory: +1

A score of 6 out of 7 isn’t perfect, but it ain’t far.  But with or without the mumblecore association, as a standalone film, American Animal is waste, obnoxious waste.

– April Davis


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