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Review: Animals


- Sophie Hyde follows her breakout hit 52 Tuesdays with a fascinating Dublin-set tale of female friendship

Review: Animals
Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat in Animals

Taking advantage of the Australian-Irish co-production agreement, 52 Tuesdays director Sophie Hyde has moved the action of British author Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel Animals from Manchester to Dublin. Unsworth penned the movie’s screenplay herself, and the production played at Sundance London at the beginning of June, ahead of a 2 August release in the UK.

Animals [+see also:
film profile
is the raucous tale of two thirty-something best friends, wannabe writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and rebellious Tyler (Alia Shawkat), whose lives are fuelled by booze and drugs. It’s the story of a fraught but loving friendship that captures that awkward age when the biological clock starts ticking and lifestyle changes are needed should one plump for the nuclear-family option. Can Laura and Tyler, who do everything together, from sharing beds to stealing drugs, survive the arrival of men and responsibility?

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Told from the perspective of Grainger’s Laura, the action begins as scrappy and uneven as the punk bands that populate the soundtrack. Initially, the story unfolds faster than a cleaner airing out bed sheets as we watch this friendship collapse. Grainger is terrific as the carefree writer who, after her elder sister falls pregnant and settles down, realises that living a life of not penning a novel and going to bed in a pool of her own vomit at 6 am may not be quite the source of creative inspiration that she needs.

Tyler is a rebel who believes that marriage is a patriarchal tool to suppress women and is designed merely to take females from one torture chamber of servitude to another. Tyler, who dresses like she’s just walked out of a vintage clothing store, fears being left to her own devices by her best friend. She has no ambition to settle down and is happy in her hedonism.

They make a great pairing, and the frank manner in which they take drugs, with no moral judgement being made by the director, is refreshing. Their friendship is about to hit crisis point when Laura falls for a pianist she meets in a bar. He is reserved, calm, collected and dedicated to his work. Indeed, he is everything that Laura is not, but before it’s possible to say, “He’s not right for you,” they are engaged.

What’s impressive about Hyde’s film is that the freewheeling style of the storytelling matches the wildly contradictory thought process of Laura. She is constantly making decisions that seem counterintuitive to her personal and career ambitions. What is a person to do when they want to be a carefree libertine, but also wish to settle down with a man and have kids? In Laura’s case, the answer is to try to be two different people, but that soon brings about predictable fault lines.

The earthquake actually happens after she meets a poet at a reading who represents the life she is leaving behind, but one that she has always dreamed of. In the film are two excellent sex scenes that force Laura to confront her lifestyle choices, and remarkably, the way these scenes unfold, they serve the narrative, rather than representing a break from it. These segments are about the emotional resonance, rather than the physical action of sex. It’s done remarkably well, as is much of the second half of a film that stalks and teases before unleashing its efficient, razor-sharp claws.

Animals is an Irish-Australian-British co-production staged by Vico Films, Closer Productions and Sarah Brocklehurst Productions. The international sales are handled by Cornerstone Films.

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