Emma Jane Unsworth

Animals

16/07/19

A big hit at this year’s Sundance Festival, Animals is an engaging film about friendship and hedonism. Written by Emma Jane Unsworth, based on her novel, and directed by Sophie Hyde, it’s the story of two women living in Dublin – coffee shop baristas by day and dedicated party animals by night. The two of them have a fierce and loyal friendship and they share a predilection for wine, drugs and casual sex with random strangers.

Indeed, Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have elevated the act of getting wasted into a fine art. The trouble is, they are now thirty-ish and the people around them – including Laura’s older sister, Jean (Amy Molloy), herself a former wild child – are taking their feet off the accelerator and settling down. What’s more, Laura has long-nurtered a desire to be an author but, after years of sporadic work, she’s only managed to produce ten pages of decent writing.

She thinks she’s hit a turning point when she meets Jim (Fra Fee), a talented and dedicated classical pianist, who rarely takes a drink and consistently avoids late nights. The two of them fall for each other, and Laura starts to seriously consider marrying him, but this drives a wedge between her and Tyler, who is admant that she will not change her spots. And then louche would-be poet, Marty (Dermott Murphy), a man not unfamiliar with booze and drugs, wanders into the scenario and casts his gaze in Laura’s direction. Things get even more complicated…

There are two superb performances at the heart of this belated coming-of-age story. Shawkat is a quirky delight but it’s Grainger who does most of the heavy lifting here, managing to convey Laura’s conflicted persona with consummate skill. Anybody who has experienced some debauchery in their youth – and let’s face it, that covers most of us – will identify with this story. Laura’s discovery that to be a successful writer requires hours of dedication is no great revelation, but it’s eloquently told and well worth saying.  This may be a well-trodden story arc, but it manages to cleverly avoid the clichés. Laura doesn’t need rescuing, she doesn’t need to take drastic measures, she merely needs to exercise a little control over her own life. It’s unusual to find a movie with two female leads and, after the poor performance of the fabulous Booksmart, let’s hope Animals does as well as it deserves. It is well worth your attention.

And you can discuss it afterwards… preferrably over a bottle of wine.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney