Sophie Hyde’s latest film Animals, adapted from Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2015 novel, is a welcome antidote to the friendships of fun, feminist, Glossier-buying millennial women that are only really found on screen. These are the elusive women you’ve heard about- the ones who are out all the time, manage a successful creative career from the tables of various minimal coffee shops, never miss a brunch, and simultaneously keep their equally efficient partners satisfied. Hyde’s film is far more interested in the messy parts we are too ashamed to share.
Animals examines the tender (and often completely raw) aspects of an obsessive friendship between wannabe writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and sardonic Tyler (Alia Shawkat) as we follow their escapades across Dublin. The first few scenes signpost the gleeful hedonism of their lives. Early on, we glimpse Laura tied to her bed with her own underwear, while Tyler wears only a fur coat and sunglasses. Their boozy haven rapidly darkens when Laura, fuelled by an anxious awareness that her next milestone birthday is 40, begins a serious relationship with the equally serious Jim (Fra Fee), a curly-headed pianist with brooding expressions to match. As Tyler begins to feel her position as partner in crime displaced by Laura’s engagement, both women are forced to question whether living so relentlessly in the present is still possible as they notice their 20-year-old identities shifting beneath their feet.
Unsworth’s script captures the mental tug of war between wanting to do something different when the expected next step is represented by the deathly ‘non-sound of the suburbs’ and not feeling guilty for wanting to settle down into the enjoyment of married life. In this way, the emotional lives of the protagonists feel authentic. It is often brutally close to the bone too. Hyde manages to nail the strained atmosphere of one particularly pretentious event with razor-sharp accuracy, from the ambient sounds of The Japanese House playing out, to the meticulously chosen geometric jewellery bedecking bemused faces. The film is helped along by its leads’ witty, potent dialogue which elicited proper laughter, despite on other occasions feeling somewhat forced. Laura’s exclamation: ‘my feminism is about blazing the way through old traditions” serves as one particularly jarring example.
Although it is packed with enjoyable moments, the storyline often feels as aimless as the protagonists. For example, I get the feeling that if you stole an almost full jar of MDMA, you’d be in for a wee confrontation with a disgruntled Dublin dealer at some point (as well as a hefty comedown or two). Of course, in Laura and Tyler’s fantasy world, a figure like this never materialises, and neither do consequences usually. This is kind of the point, but it is still tiresome. In order to work, Animals requires a hefty helping of poetic licence then, which we also see in Laura’s unexplained ability to live in a gorgeous Georgian townhouse and drink a week’s wages in a single evening while working only a handful of shifts as a barista.
Similarly, after Laura leaves a party at 11 in the morning to attend her fiancé’s event, still not walking quite straight, it only takes her a quick swipe of concealer and little tousle of her shiny locks to look pretty fierce. Maybe it’s just me, but my face after a big night out is not redeemable with just five minutes in the bathroom. As refreshing as it is to see imperfect and frankly unlikeable women on screen, it would have been good to see a more believable hangover. Could we not have been given some pallid skin, bloodshot eyes or greasy hair? It is a very pretty film to watch, but Animals missed a trick by not throwing in a bit more ugliness.
Even so, it can’t be a bad thing that I left the cinema with a desire to read Unsworth’s original vision of fractured female friendship- it has kept me wondering whether the animals in her novel have a bit more bite to their bark.