Starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, this film about a fracturing friendship feels both dynamic and authentic.
In the space between ignored dreams and shirked responsibilities, that's where Animals' Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) largely live. Devoted friends to the point of codependency, and just as dedicated to their Dublin routine of drinking, debauchery and doing the bare minimum at their barista gigs, they've seen no reason to change their ways for the past decade. But, as Laura suddenly realises, they're not getting any younger. The pair's thirties are here. The book that Laura has supposedly been penning since the two first met remains little more than an idea. And, her younger sister (Amy Molloy) has traded partying for pregnancy on purpose. Tyler is near-aggressively happy with the status quo, however Laura's epiphany hits like the wine and MDMA the duo are so fond of — and leaves an unshakeable hangover.
Directed by Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays), and scripted by British writer Emma Jane Unsworth based on her own book, Animals finds its joined-at-the-hip protagonists at a crossroads. Glued together by choice for so long, they're now coming unstuck. Forget romantic turmoil; this is a tale of platonic heartbreak and existential malaise spiralling into an inescapable whirlpool. Animals isn't the first film to understand that drifting away from a friend is just as painful as ending a love affair, but it joins a relatively sparse dramatic subgenre. Indeed, there's a refreshing forthrightness to the story, taking Laura and Tyler's pseudo-couple status as a given. While jokes are made about wives, marriages and separations, particularly once Laura starts seeing more of her new musician boyfriend Jim (Fra Fee) and spending less time with her increasingly petulant bestie, they're hardly necessary — just how crucial the pair have been to each other for a third of their lives is constantly written across their faces.
Girl meets girl, sparks fly, they live wildly and become each other's ride-or-dies — that's not a scenario that often gets such thoughtful big-screen attention. The importance of depth and detail in this situation, especially in leapfrogging any and all female friendship cliches, really can't be underestimated. Whether or not Hyde and Unsworth have overtly drawn upon their own respective experiences, the end result resonates with a lived-in air. Authenticity isn't just something their characters are searching for; it seeps from the movie. Frolicking or fighting, embracing firmly or steadfastly ignoring each other, the dynamic between Laura and Tyler feels like it could've moseyed out of any shared flat filled with retro furniture, piles of clothes and too many empty bottles (and, thanks to stellar production design and costuming work, it looks that way too).
That said, Animals does come with a caveat, or a strength that could initially be seen as a flaw. Played to perfection by the two leads, the movie's main characters seem as genuine as the circumstances they're navigating, as well as the relatable emotions they're displaying. Unsurprisingly, that means they're not always wholly pleasant to spend time with. They needn't be, of course. They shouldn't be, in fact. No mere mortal is bearable every second of every day. Again, this warts-and-all approach is refreshing, not to mention teeming with meaning. Shawkat's Tyler can come across as abrasive and performative, and Grainger's Laura as uncertain and unfocused, with the picture calling out, sifting through and challenging common millennial stereotypes through these traits. There's no judgement here, but rather a commitment to seeing things like they are — even if the film styles its frames in a somewhat dreamlike way at the same time.
As steeped in truth as Animals proves, bleak, stark reality isn't the name of its game — visually, at least. When you're caught in the hustle and bustle of life, it can be surreal. When you're reflecting on past choices, agonising over future paths and wondering if your most important relationship to date will survive the present, the right answer rarely stares you plainly in the face. With all of that in mind, Hyde gives her movie a flavour of hectic exuberance, with ample assistance from editor and cinematographer Bryan Mason. That mood couldn't be more influential, including when Animals leans into its more obvious developments and sentiments. In the easy, hard, routine and thorny moments alike, questioning everything you know and navigating a quarter-life crisis should feel energetic, jittery and a little uncanny, after all.
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