★ ★ ★ ★
“It’ll inspire nostalgia for nights you can’t remember and a longing for more you’ll live to regret.”
“You know how it is. Saturday Afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move”: and with the most relatable opening of a novel thus begins an equally memorable, honest and hilarious film. Animals, based on a novel of the same name, follows messy women living life one mistake at a time. Despite their chaotic existence, leads Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) sure know how to make dysfunction look stylish, so much so that even the most put together audience member may go home nursing a longing for disorder.
Their carefree lifestyle is attractive but entirely addictive, which is the pivotal realisation for Laura. During a family dinner where her sister announces her pregnancy, Laura is slapped with the reality that she has been trying – and failing – to write her novel for ten years (a regrettably relatable moment that gut-punched every budding writer in the audience). This evening sparks a flame of inspiration within Laura and she launches into the trial of taking her life and ambitions seriously, a flame that proves hard to keep alive when doused by temptations like alcohol and partying. Soon, Laura finds a positive role-model in Jim (Fra Fee), a talented and working pianist who she starts a relationship with. As this relationship progresses a rift is created between Laura and Tyler as their desires and lifestyles start to drift apart. Hurt emotions soon follow but what is never lost is the intense love shared between Laura and Tyler, demonstrating their iron strong friendship.
The representation of female friendship is what’s truly special about Animals. Few films have so accurately portrayed these types of relationships, with women often degrading to mean snarks, and unstable bonds weakened by silly fallouts. When Laura and Tyler fight, there’s never a full dismissal of one another. Even mid-fight they can place their disagreement on hold and choose to discuss issues properly the next day when sober. Though their co-dependency can often seem toxic, it’s also completely real. These characters are flawed; they were never written with the intention to be perfect role-models. Like other complicated female characters we’ve been treated to, they fall into the Fleabag category of messy-yet-still-lovable.
The honesty of this portrayal of modern women is thanks to the brilliant team of women who worked on the film. Directed by Sophie Hyde, with the screenplay by Emma Jane Unsworth (adapted from her original novel of the same name) and co-produced by Sarah Brocklehurst; this production was a powerhouse of female talent. Animals doesn’t shy away from nudity and sex, depicting the strong desire women also have for debauchery and one-night stands. Despite the stark and full-on nudity, the lack of the dreaded male-gaze is clear and is completely refreshing to witness. Grainger (The Borgias, Riot Club) and Shawkat (Arrested Development, Green Room, Whip It) are fantastic in their roles, with bombastic chemistry and tender affection for one another ringing true for all close friends. If their sparkling charisma is not captivating enough, their fabulous outfits will surely grab your attention in every scene.
Animals is a starkly honest and raw portrayal of growing up, and apart, from those you love. It’s a story where the potential break-up of friendship is given the due emotional respect that romantic relationships are automatically given. Despite the harsh realities, Animals is also a wildly fun film with gags that can leave you rolling in your seat (the burning bush bible reference being a particular stand-out). It’ll inspire nostalgia for nights you can’t remember and a longing for more you’ll live to regret. It’s a film of emotional highs and lows with both sides pushed to the extreme, but despite the rollercoaster of a ride, it’s a purely enjoyable experience that will leave you treasuring the friendships in your life.
Dir: Sophie Hyde
Prod: Closer Productions, Sarah Brocklehurst, Vico films, Cornerstone films
Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphey,
Release: UK – 2nd August 2019
Available: In cinemas