Thanks to science, modern medicine and generally just knowing better, the life expectancy of a human being is no longer 38.3 years (soz 1880). Which means that these days the “growing up” part of life is a little more delayed. When #adulting is a thing among 30-year-olds - seeking praise because they went to bed before 1am and didn’t binge that latest Netflix hit - you know we have a problem. And what better way to highlight the plight of the privileged white middle class than independent cinema.
Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name, ‘Animals’ follows 32-year-old Laura (Holliday Grainger ‘My Cousin Rachel’) and her BFF Tyler (Alia Shawkat, TVs ‘Arrested Development’) in their hedonistic life in Dublin. Disturbingly codependent (they sleep in the same bed), the pair live off a steady diet of booze, drugs and eight-minute sexcapades in the bathroom of whatever local alcohol dispensary they happen to be in. One night, Laura gets a rude awakening when she finds out her sister is pregnant; a woman who less than a year ago was crushing pills in her kitchen mortar and pestle and dancing naked on bar tops, and the novel Laura’s been hopelessly plugging away at has now entered it’s tenth year of non-progression. When she meets straight-laced pianist Jim (Fra Fee, ‘Les Misérables’) at a bar one evening, the pair quickly fall in love and become engaged, much to Tyler’s chagrin, and thus begins the existential tug-of-war between her life with her best friend and that with her new love, and the newfound temptation of local literary Marty (Dermot Murphy, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’). All the while, she’s trying to find inspiration and motivation to finally attack her book and earn the title of writer.
Joining the guild of female friendship sagas of late, ‘Animals’ holds its own terrifically as a unique and darker look at the trials and tribulations of said friendship and the obstacles of growing up and navigating life. Women have long known the secrets and power of the platonic female friendship and that the great and all-consuming loves of our lives aren’t always - in fact, are rarely -the romantic kind. This is one such love. ’Animals’ also explores the freedom of modern sexuality - not completely void of judgement, but certainly less so than the usual fare and certainly less harshly.
The great and all-consuming loves of our lives aren’t always - in fact, are rarely - the romantic kind.
Grainger is terrific (holy crap, how have I never taken true notice of this wonder before!?), while Shawkat revels in her rare turn as a non-wallflower and non-nerd. Bravo. There’s nothing fluffy here but the occasional earnest and frank sentimentality in Unsworth’s adaptation of her own novel, with director Sophie Hyde (’52 Tuesdays’) guiding the ship. My only critique would be the film’s ending which feels a little contrived.
I feel ‘Animals’ would have been better served had it had the guts to go as dark as the source material, instead of teetering on the edge. Gritty but not too gritty, the film fails to decide which relationship is its focus, yet it still manages to engage you enough not to truely care while voyeuristically observing this modern right of passage of identity, resilience and the hard choices we have to make.