Animals

 

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A strikingly well-acted portrayal of the lives and outlook of two women in their twenties.

 
Animals

Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat

 

We have here a film set in Dublin which has been made from a decidedly female perspective and it's a work of some distinction. Emma Jane Unsworth has adapted her own novel which has at its centre two best friends, Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Ali Shawkat), who are so close that they share accommodation and even a bed and have done so for some years. Together they go partying and, while on one level they are drinking buddies, they importantly share a non-conformist outlook being keen enough on men but not on marriage and all that it represents. Approaching thirty, Tyler is nevertheless adamant in her attitude, but Laura meets a pianist named Jim (Fra Fee) and becomes serious about him. These differing viewpoints now developing may be influenced by Tyler's parents having been at loggerheads whereas those of Laura (cameo roles for the admirable Olwen Fouéré and Pat Shortt) have had a happy marriage. But even so Laura's pregnant sister, Jean (Amy Molloy), stands as an example of conventional domestication and is a constant reminder to Laura of her desire for freedom - and that's an attitude which, when Jim is away touring, will lead Laura to respond to the attractions of a young poet, Marty (Dermot Murphy reminiscent in looks of the young Stephen Rea).

 

The subsidiary characters here - the men - may not be quite so well rounded in the writing, but Grainger and Shawkat are fully catered for and utterly persuasive. The situation of two young women sharing may evoke thoughts of situation comedies made for television, but the humour here (at which Shawkat is especially adroit) never takes away from the sense that there is real depth in this movie. It applies on the personal level (Laura is a would-be novelist who wonders if her long failure to get far with her writing means that she is a failure) but no less on the social: my instinct tells me that Animals is very truthful in its portrayal of contemporary attitudes among young women. A sympathetic but not uncritical portrait of its two central figures, this is a film that surely endorses the view expressed by Jim when he says that he believes that we are defined not by who we are but by who we want to be.

 

As director, Sophie Hyde adopts a fluid approach at times as shown by the way that scenes blend together and even on occasion form a kind of montage. For much of the film's length it all works admirably and, especially for those well placed to identify with the concerns of Laura and Tyler, this may well prove memorable viewing. However, I did come to feel that the film's running length of 109 minutes reflected a screenplay which stretched things out unnecessarily late on. Admiration turned to mixed feelings here as evidenced by my response to two key moments near the close: one of them works admirably in that it springs a surprise that one immediately believes in, but in contrast to that the film's concluding scene is a foreseeable cliché. This somewhat takes the edge off things and consequently reduces my rating above, but I still wish to stress that until this late phase Animals is a distinguished and extremely well-acted film. For certain viewers it may be a defining look at lives akin to their own.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy, Amy Molloy, Kwaku Fortune, Olwen Fouéré, Pat Shortt.

 

Dir Sophie Hyde, Pro Sarah Brocklehurst, Rebecca Summerton, Cormac Fox and Sophie Hyde, Screenplay Emma Jane Unsworth, from her novel, Ph Bryan Mason, Pro Des Louise Matthews, Ed Bryan Mason, Music Jed Palmer and Zoë Barry, Costumes Renate Henschke.

 

Screen Australia/Screen Ireland/Fis Éireann/Cornerstone Films/Sarah Brocklehurst Productions/Closer Productions/Vico Films-Picturehouse Entertainment.
109 mins. Australia/Ireland/UK/Finland. 2018. Rel: 2 August 2019. Cert. 15.