- Emma Simmonds
- 31 May 2019
Sundance London 2019: Alia Shawkat and Holliday Grainger play muckers in Sophie Hyde's latest
'My feminism is about blazing a new way through old traditions,' announces a defiant Laura (Holliday Grainger) as she tries on wedding dresses in the disapproving presence of her non-conformist best friend Tyler (Alia Shawkat). With one approaching 30 and the other just over that hill, the two are at loggerheads as to how to negotiate this transitional period in their lives. Emma Jane Unsworth adapts her own novel for Australian director Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays), with the two taking us on a boozy journey through modern-day Dublin.
Shawkat's Tyler is like a thrift store femme fatale; sporting vampish lipstick and speaking with an American drawl, she's permanently inebriated and slightly scheming. This flamboyant character is locked in an intense friendship with her more down-to-earth flatmate Laura, one that's become rather suffocating. The two have been muckers for a decade – it's no coincidence that over the same period Laura has failed to make any headway on her much-talked-about novel.
The women are fabulously glamorous in their eye-catching vintage threads but their fun-filled nights are now almost ritualistic routine, as they hoover up both dregs and drugs and haunt the same venues. Tyler (who is estranged from her family) fears abandonment; the more ambitious Laura is in need of escape and inspiration. She may have found it in pianist Jim (Fra Fee), who has a clear-headed approach to his own profession, while her former wild-child sister (Amy Molloy), now settled with a baby on the way, offers a vision of another kind of future.
Hyde's gently interrogatory directorial style lends real intimacy and buoyancy to the women's stories. She magnifies their beautifully nuanced performances and captures the vivid and hazy highs of their hedonist lifestyle, the rude glare of the morning after, the chilly tension that follows change, and their wider fears and frustrations. Demonstrating a flair for pertinent minutia, Hyde thrills in the way Laura's pen moves smoothly then sharply across a page, showing the liberation and infuriation of the creative process.
Like Fleabag for the film crowd, in its portrayal of two sexually confident but otherwise confused women, Animals is very funny and authentic on the turning point that is your 30s, with Laura seeming to crave domestic bliss and career satisfaction and Tyler equating toning it down with giving up. Yet it's a film that's far from clear on the right answers to the pre middle-age muddle, in a way that itself rings true. With a script that pops with memorable lines ('Girls are tied to beds for two reasons: sex and exorcisms. So which was it with you?'), it's by turns tender, raucous and wise.
Screening as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2019: London. General release from Fri 2 Aug.