The Chattanooga Film Fesitval of 2023 was an absolute glut of interesting new films from filmmakers of varying generations and stages of career. However, Andrew Adams’ American Meltdown seems to speak directly to the aging millennial generation. “Horror” may be a stretch, but it’s not hard to see real-world fears embodied here. It’s a film that takes on the promises-not-kept by American society… Those being that playing by the rules, working hard, asking nicely and staying invariably ‘civil’ are the way to a comfortable and successful American life.
The film centers around Olivia Walker (Jacki Von Preysing), a woman who is, to say the least, a wee bit stressed out. Despite being a model employee, she gets forced out of her job as a cost saving measure, and told “blame the unions.” She then is forced to deal with a break in at her rental home, with a less-than-interested police officer (Shaun Boylan) and a slimeball property manager (Clayton Farris), who spends his time alternating between ogling/placating Olivia and gaming the police report to favor his legal position.
Add to that a generationally wealthy ex-boyfriend who is unwilling to pay her money she is owed, a massive amount of debt, an iron-clad rental agreement, and little success finding a temporary gig, and you’ve got one of the more relatable depictions of anxiety in recent memory. But through this anxiousness, an unexpected bright spot; Olivia meets a likable drifter, Mari (Nicolette Sweeney).
Mari is a pickpocket and has no issue getting her hands dirty. As they interact, she recognizes in Olivia the desperation of someone living life on-the-bubble, a place Mari herself had once been.
The two become unlikely friends for both utilitarian and human reasons. The friendship that forms is like Fight Club minus the bravado and toxicity. The women become embodiments of a philosophical debate between ‘two wolves’ that every struggling millennial has had to wrestle: do you play by the rules of a rigged system, or do you destroy it and try for something better?
American Meltdown’s funny, moving, and thrilling approach was as cathartic as it was thought provoking. The whip-sharp editing and likable performances really sell the premise with just the right blend of anarchy, comedy and simple humanity.
As a cynical, aging millennial, I wish I could imagine that one day, the fear of being chewed up by a broken system would become unrelatable… but until that day comes, I’m glad American Meltdown is here to offer some perspective.
PS, I can neither confirm nor deny that Mari's method of getting cheaper groceries works like a charm.