"God forbid our reality should ruin the big jazzy fantasy"… such are the many shrewd exclamations of Animals, a film that explores the existential optimism of two young women. It's everything you'd expect from a plucky Irish-Aussie co-production—a spirited, punchy tale that sparkles with a heady mix of confident youthful enthusiasm and dark sardonic humour.
A sassy wise-cracking American, Tyler (played by Alia Shawkat) and local wannabe writer, Laura (Holliday Grainger) are two heavy-drinking Dublin besties and the world is their oyster. Their effervescent friendship sniffs out poetic reckoning and drug-addled hedonism at every turn, but when Laura starts to question their lifestyle, cracks begin to appear in their friendship. Surrounding herself with an awkward mix of Dublin pub dwellers, artistic intelligentsia and her conventional family, Laura's life is caught in the push-and-pull between partying, bohemian fervour, and traditional life choices.
Adapting the script from her own novel for her first feature, Emma Jane Unsworth has penned a screenplay that spits with sharp wit, adroitly balancing a love story with one of existential crisis and smothering friendship. The devil is in the detail and Unsworth seems to have plenty of devils to talk about, lacing her script with snappy repartee, which while plentiful, does occasionally border on being overbearing to suffer at the hands of its own cleverness. Nonetheless, Unsworth's screenplay shows enough agility to suggest she is a talent worth keeping an eye on.
Her pairing with Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays), a director with clear feminist leanings, make Laura and Tyler's relationship all the more potent with Laura defining herself as "blazing a new way through old traditions".
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Yet, surprisingly the film doesn't let feminism become a distraction, rather allowing the two women to forge out their own destinies through a more conventional narrative arc. Ultimately, Animals is an admirable take of self-discovery and reminds us that change is inevitable.
Director: Sophie Hyde
Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Elva Trill
Running time: 109 mins
Rating: R16 (Sex scenes, nudity, drug use & offensive language)
Verdict: A confident and ambitiously clever take on friendship and self-discovery.