Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Jane Unsworth – who also adapts her book for the screen – and directed by Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde, Animals is a visceral, unabashed tale of the bond between best friends Laura and Tyler.
The story is set in Dublin instead of Manchester like in the book, and it is here that the two 20-somethings party like there’s no tomorrow, drinking in every other scene. Living in a grand Edwardian house, Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) survive by working as waitresses, implausible when you factor in how much drink and drugs the pair consume. The former has a novel in her, though she’s only managed to flesh out ten pages in as many years, debilitated by her crippling writer’s block. Of the pair, the latter is the bohemian feminist, carefree and happy to live the rest of her days with her best mate in tow; in one scene the two pluck a bucket of MDMA from someone’s house, running away gleefully through the glowing streets of Dublin.
The turning point of the film occurs when Laura meets the charming Jim (Fra Fee) a gifted classical pianist, and becomes caught between settling into a life of comfort and convention, while also pulled by her desire to rally against the norms and keep partying. Tyler’s jealousy, sometimes toxic dependency and lack of enthusiasm for Laura and Jim’s reunion is shown with a touching and raw sensibility, Shawkat’s performance natural and effortless, though the script tends to sound a little pretentious. Tyler’s past is hinted at, though not fully explored, the story developed more around Laura. Though previously having performed in a majority of supporting roles, it is fair to say Grainger shines as the struggling Dubliner, her eyes sparkling in moments of elation juxtaposed with carefully crafted expressions of insecurity and anxiety.
The feature could have been more decadent in the vein of Withnail & I, which it has been compared to, as we see the friends party hard yet maintain an enviable physical appearance as opposed to being portrayed with gritty realism; Renate Henschke did an incredible job with the costume design, Laura donning cool 80s blazers with shoulder pads, while Tyler shines in gorgeous thrift shop outfits in metallic colours. Animals can be merited on its poignancy and witty humour, alongside Grainger and Shawkat’s spirited portrayal of friendship, while the film’s message of independence and being happy for others rings loud and clear. Recurring shots of a shy fox capture the exchange between the civilised and wild elements that compete for dominance in us all.
Animals is released nationwide on 2nd August 2019.
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