Like the first drink of an evening, then, Animals hit the pit of my stomach with equal parts desire and despair. As my electric and extroverted housemate and best-friend packed up to move in with her boyfriend, the sudden realisation that a chapter had closed in my life hit me like the seventh shot of tequila.
Also as someone who’d chose a few pints (or several into the wee hours of the morning) and more with my now ex-housemate over writing chapters of my book, the mould of emotions portrayed in Animals was so real that it winded me completely.
Expertly directed by Sophie Hyde, this dissection of a decade old friendship between two women is a must-see. Starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, the film focuses on Laura and Tyler who have been friends and housemates in Dublin. A raucous pair – the party never really stops, much to the chagrin of those around them, urging them to grow-up. When Laura falls for piano-player Jim, the two friends face their biggest test yet – especially since Jim is more reserved and focused that Laura is. Can the women survive this dynamic change?
Both Laura (Grainger) and Tyler (Shawkat) serve different purposes within the film: Laura is the more “sensible” of the pair whilst Tyler an ethereal whirlwind. Yet the actresses portraying them charge the characters with a spirit beyond that of stereotypes. Holliday Grainger is on top form here as the 30 something Laura who frustratingly misfires at nearly every turn. The writer, whose book has been caught in a web of in trepidation and booze, has all the determination but is held back by fear and Tyler’s trilobites about society in general. Leaning far too much on her friend’s mischievous ways as both a way to escape the “process” and an excuse (or blame) whenever confronted by her instability, Grainger plays Laura with both sympathy and selfishness. The actress makes the gritty bits of her character palatable and with Hyde’s clear direction, Laura ebbs with empathy as any judgement is more hissed frustration at being so close on many occasions. Grainger is phenomenal at balancing different glasses of this character.
Whilst Shawkat’s character feels a bit more one-sided, there is a hidden nerve there that Laura tongues with her relationship with Jim. Tyler is wild, trotting out wild philosophy about why she doesn’t conform to society and how she’d rather find herself at the bottom of a jar of MDMA rather than in the suburbs. Yet she is also hurt. “It’s not the same for me,” she trots out like a fox nursing scars. We’ll never truly know how she got them, but the allusion and Shawkat’s performance are enough for us to get the pain.
From the beginning, despite mantras of “you’re my team,” and constant partying, you can tell that the girls are gearing towards a crash. Hyde and screenwriter Emma Jane Unsworth (who also wrote the book that this film was based on) weave through the turmoil with expert precision. Though at times the film can feel a little repetitive, perhaps a few minutes too long, the constant bounce back to free wine and cocaine is handled honestly and overtly.
The film is very funny in places but it is raw and real. For anyone who has gone out with a friend who takes it too far – the party ending as vomit on the floor or with heated words that still cling to your skin last night’s like make-up – Animals truly captures that need for growth. When do we put away that feather boa and try to make something for ourselves? When do we turn away from that person keeping us stuck in the past? When does the hangover stop? Hyde and Unsworth tackle this with phenomenal direction and expert writing.
There’s also brilliant set design and decoration from (name) who captures that wildling flat of mismatched furniture, centuries old wallpaper, and stale cigarettes, bringing further character to these girls.
Animals is a call to action: A film for anyone, like myself, who has that has struggled between the self, the friends, and the social. Or similarly watched someone you loved move on from you, despite how much you’ve clawed to keep them around.
Animals is a journey to find the ultimate balance between a social life and a beg not to entirely drift from one side to the other. It was a celebration of the crass and car-crash female friendships that are deep enough to rift someone from their goals. It honours the moment of growth we’ve all been through and how we deal with our friends moving on from us and the late nights.
It’s a hilarious raise of the glass to what it means to live and what it means to love – the good, the bad, and the parties.
An exploration of contaminated friendships, examining your own toxic behaviour. and waking up to the ultimate emotional hangover, Animals is a breath-taking, brutal, and beautiful film.
Animals is out 2nd August