Holliday Grainger

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

The Finest Hours

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21/02/16

A rare Disney vehicle that doesn’t involve animation or slapstick humour, The Finest Hours (forgettable title) is based on a true story and depicts a daring rescue mission carried out in the heart of a terrible storm off Cape Cod in 1952. In terrifying conditions, a huge oil tanker is not so much battered by the storm as actually ripped in two, drowning its captain and most of the crew, but leaving the rear section still afloat with thirty two men on board. It’s down to quietly spoken engine-room man, Ray Sybert (Casey Afflick) to take control of the situation and devise a way of keeping what’s left of the tanker above the waterline until help gets there – but in the days before GPS location existed, how is anybody ever going to find them?

Help eventually comes in the shape of handsome coastguard officer, Bernie Weber (the angel-faced Chris Pine)  who has recently become engaged to the feisty Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Having failed to save some local seamen in a recent maritime tragedy, Weber has something to prove, so despite being warned by all and sundry that he’s embarking on a suicide mission, he selects three plucky crewmen and sets off into the heart of the storm, trusting on good luck and previous experience to guide him.This would seem unlikely if it didn’t hap[pen to be true.

The Finest Hours is a handsomely mounted film, that has much to recommend it. The period detail is convincingly evoked, there are nice performances from the ensemble cast and the storm at sea sequences are suitably immersive, occasionally downright thrilling. If in the end it’s all a bit reminiscent of The Perfect Storm, it matters not one jot, because if the aims of this film were to entertain and enthral then it achieves them with ease. In what’s becoming an increasingly popular trope, the end credits show images of the real life heroes alongside their screen counterparts, allowing us to see just how faithful the filmmakers have been to their source material.

A word of warning though. Anyone planning a cruise in the near future may want to give this one a miss.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney