Animals is Sophie Hyde’s film adaption of Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel of the same name. A coming of age film (not the typical teen age range) that’ll hit frighteningly close to home for anyone experiencing a quarter life crisis and offer an excellent and hilarious insight for everyone else.
The story features Laura and Tyler, a pair who have lived (are living) a life of booze, drugs and spiritual and creative freedom in Ireland’s capital of Dublin. Calling them best friends feels a little redundant for grown women – they’re inseparable and the sharing of their life experiences has created a strong bond between them. Their adventures are slowly brought to a halt however when Laura meets and enters a relationship with a clean shirted pianist. Feeling guilty for her betrayal to Tyler, Laura tries to balance her partying lifestyle, her creative pursuits and an adult relationship all under her own internal and external societal pressures. It’s funny, tender and intelligent.
I had some concerns about the dialogue between the two characters in the opening scenes – it’s straight into period talk and looking at each other’s piss which, is all good fun but a little cliche’. Thankfully it soon settles down and the relationship reveals itself as believable. You’ll easily be able to see see yourself split between the two characters as a viewer, and can take some enjoyment in identifying with both Tyler and Laura. They’re full of contradictions and nuances that offer encouragement in accepting that there’s no right or wrong answer in terms of how to live. That even if it’s just for the duration of the film, you can take solace in feeling that expected progress in life is subjective – a notion that’s drummed into us so often but through this medium hits differently and with intent.
Hyde takes us through it all in Animals. Is there an illusion of choice faced as women? Should we feel guilty for taking pleasure in societal conformity? Am I a failure? It’s delivered with realism that’s almost a little frightening in parts. These messages and representations are made all the more effective by excellent and realistic casting. Holliday Grainger (Laura) and Alia Shawkat’s (Tyler) performances contribute hugely to the quality of this film, which are vivd and thoroughly entertaining throughout. All the characters have a sense of purpose, something to teach us (kudos to Unsowrth here) and will inevitably take you back to memories of someone you know, once knew or someone you might have tried to forget.
Sets and costume design are fun and vibrant. There’s lots to enjoy from a sensory perspective: the bright evening lights of Dublin, outfits that you wish you owned or at one point did and a neopunk soundtrack that’ll have you digging up old CDs. It also happens to be one of the most cathartic portrayals of a hangover and the regret of a night that’s gone on too long that I’ve ever seen. Those sensitive to hangxiety be warned.
It’s also a joy and a bit of a small victory to see female sexual desire depicted so realistically on screen. Hyde gets it spot on (think Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled) drawing on experience that is intimate and relatable but not exclusive to this audience. The guilt associated with taking comfort in belonging to someone for example, is something that will ring true for many. To those that might not be able to connect directly with this film it’s certainly fun and sexy, to those who can it’s actually really moving and almost, spiritual.
It seems like a key takeaway from Animals is there’s pressure from all aspects of life. There’s even pressure to not feel any pressure from life and to live how you want, but even that freedom feels wrong. I left the theatre feeling so beautifully present and comforted at the end of this movie. Laura’s final mantra still stays with me now, a mindful reminder when dealing with all of these questions and constraints;
Director: Sophie Hyde
Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee
Writer: Emma Jane Unsworth, (based on the novel Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth)