Actresses Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat make a brilliantly wonderful pair as we see best friends drift apart and reconnect on the big screen fairly often, but with her second feature film, director Sophie Hyde works with a script by Emma Jane Unsworth based on her own novel to dig into the complexities of female friendships, growing up and finding independence.
Animals stars Grainger and Shawkat as Laura and Tyler, respectively. They’re two friends who are close as sisters sharing an apartment in Dublin and living a “play hard” lifestyle. Laura is an aspiring writer and there is a little work in the mix to make somewhat of a living, but their top priorities are most certainly drinking, drugs and their friendship. That is until Laura falls for a classical pianist named Jim (Fra Fee) and Tyler grows increasingly concerned that their no-rules, non-conformist existence is slipping away.
Animals largely rides on the chemistry between Grainger and Shawkat, and the duo are downright fantastic together. Whether you agree with their life choices or not, they’re so in sync that their friendship is utterly and immediately intoxicating. Maybe they’re not being their best selves, but they have something so raw and beautiful that it’s tough not to hope that they can keep the status quo going, even if it means forgoing growing up and establishing their own identities separate from one another.
Shawkat in particular is a master at something I personally can’t get enough of, honest big screen female friendships. Whether it’s a horror movie like The Final Girls or something in the young adult department like Whip It, there’s a purity to her connections with her co-stars that suggests years’ worth of history and a genuine loyalty that’s impossible not to admire. And Animals is no different. Not only does Grainger fall right into step with Shawkat in this respect, but there’s a real spark to her chemistry with Fee that makes Animals a deeply engaging and complex story of a friendship falling apart over a man.
Fee first caught my eye with a brief but memorable appearance in Les Miserables. I haven’t caught any of his big screen work since, but Animals serves as a nice reminder that Fee has an effortlessly captivating on-screen presence – just like Grainger. It’s a true pleasure seeing their characters come together and have such a positive influence on one another. But just before you can get completely whisked away by the promise of their budding romance, in comes the reminder that what they’re building is diametrically opposed to everything Tyler values.
It’s a complicated love triangle of sorts where no one has a fantastic heart of gold and the movie doesn’t feed you a right or wrong answer. Is Jim a great guy? Yes, but not without flaws. Is Laura’s friendship with Tyler something to be cherished? Without a doubt, but that friendship has to grow as they mature. There are so many forces at work throughout the film and it challenges you to stay on your toes and consider every step of their journey – their history together, present needs, and future hopes and dreams. Whether you can relate to Laura and Tyler’s specific challenges or not, the pressures of “adulting,” whether or not to conform to expectations and figuring out who you want to be is a universal predicament that many likely struggle with – myself included.
Hyde seems to know she’s got two phenomenal leads here and largely lets them do their thing, letting their performances breathe and shine by keeping the visuals and the editing choices very naturalistic. Hyde also often chooses to play into the party vibe that sweeps you up with a “not a care in the world” feeling, only to then send you back crashing back to the coldness of reality. Animals is a highly effective and satisfying journey of self-discovery not because it offers up easy answers or even a perfect happy ending, but rather because it so thoroughly taps into the chaos of reality. Life is a whirlwind of making decisions that change your own path but also effect others. It’s a journey to find independence that includes constant questioning of who you are and where you want to be. Animals taps into the disorder of all of it and the friendship between Laura and Tyler proves to be an especially effective vehicle to explore the ups, downs and all the complications in between.
Animals currently does not have a release date.