Directed by Sophie Hyde
Starring Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy and Amy Molloy.
Resisting the building urge to grow up, 30 year old Laura rockets between her old party animal lifestyle and her newly found, more mature, love affair.
Laura and her flatmate Tyler live from one night out to the next, barely making it out of bed in between. They are presumably the “Animals” from the title of Sophie Hyde’s film. But with the realisation that the last 10 years have been spent in this manner, and with nothing concrete to show for it, Laura begins to worry about the direction her life appears to be taking. Change brings new romance and conflict with Tyler, but you know what people say about what happens the more that things change?
From the off, Animals sets up two characters that seem so easy to fall into step with. As Laura, Holliday Grainger does well to balance confidence and uncertainty, treading a desperately lost path. Her innermost emotion is constantly on display, but still that cheeky twinkle remains in every moment – behind every extra gulp of wine, line of drugs or fully purposeful nip-slip. Stealing almost every scene, Alia Shawkat’s Tyler is a hilarious testament to the post-modern carpe diem attitude, or perhaps yolo is more appropriate here. Together the two shine, perfectly complimenting each other and the fast paced, drug-filled atmosphere they live in. It is a shame, then, that the film manages to do so little with these creations. Over-educated layabouts spouting literary quotes and arguing about feminism; the dialogue between the women is never dull but leaves them without any tangible depth. The connection built in the first few minutes of the film erodes quickly, leaving an empathy gap that almost fills with contempt by the time the credits roll.
Adapting her own novel, Emma Jane Unsworth struggles to make up for poor character development with plotting. In the first act, Laura’s romance is so simple that it edges on boring, and later the film settles for a predictable back and forth between the old Laura and the new. Frustratingly, Unsworth shies away from the most interesting facets of the story she has introduced – the co-dependence between the two women, or their difference in upbringing. Apparently content just to watch the pair try to outcompete Jordan Belfort in drug consumption, Unsworth covers well trodden territory with little gusto.
Thankfully, Hyde is on hand to make some excellent visual choices. The picture lives in a close up, making excellent use of Grainger’s wonderfully expressive face. Whilst playing with point of view and images of memory, Hyde masterfully manipulates colour and tone. The bright whites of Laura’s adult life evoke a clean hope that is skilfully juxtaposed with the vibrancy of her party days.
Animals feels like it is trying to make a point, but it never succinctly does so. Lofty sentiments fall with more pretension than they were probably meant to, and any attempts to answer questions about living life, creating art and hard work are swept away without much discussion. As such, Unsworth’s writing lets down a film with strong directorial ideas and a talented cast. Perhaps it is to her credit that the characters feel utterly real, living through relatable situations. But this fact is so outweighed by the characters’ complete lack of likeability – brought on by their actions and shallow development. Not Shawkat’s devilish sarcasm nor even Grainger’s delightful Irish twang can save Animals from the confused, self important cliché it ends up as.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★