Film review: ‘ANIMALS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Based on the novel by Emma Jane Unsworth (who also wrote the script), edgy Irish/ Australian romantic drama Animals explores a compellingly messy world of female friendship, modern feminism, failing dreams and the pressures of adult responsibility.

Holliday Grainger stars as Laura, an aspiring novelist living on the ragged fringes of the Dublin arts community, whose attempts to write a novel have been constantly derailed by procrastination and distraction from her hard-partying best friend Tyler (Ali Shawkat). The dynamic of their raucous quasi-adolescent lifestyle is upset when Laura begins dating musician Jim (Fra Fee) who bears a remarkable resemblance to Tim Buckley. As Laura tentatively embraces the world of mainstream adulthood, an increasingly bitter Tyler clings to her rebellious lifestyle.

Animals features an admittedly limited storyline as Laura and Tyler stumble through various sexual encounters, drug taking episodes, inner-city arts events and interpersonal spats. This could have become repetitive and predictable but Unsworth’s script has such a bracing honesty – she spares no bodily function here – that the film rarely drags. While it does mix a few pretentious poetry references into the torrent of obscenities, the dialogue almost always rings true.

Importantly, Sophie Hyde’s ballsy directorial style captures not only the chaotic wold of Laura and Tyler’s friendship but also the look, sound, mood and energy of an artsy urban culture. Hyde showed her ability to create a potent female-centred narrative with fine 2014 Australian drama 52 Tuesdays.

Also, the entire cast, particularly the two leads Grainger and Shawkat, are terrific. Grainger mixes insouciance and acerbic wit with touching introspection while Shawkat makes Tyler provocative and at times infuriating but deftly avoids making her a pretentious pain. While Laura and Tyler are heavily flawed and often surprisingly irresponsible, they’re not dislikeable.

Animals won’t entrance every viewer, though. More conservative audience members may be put off by its casual attitude to sex and drugs but those looking for an honest examination of relationships and the problems of trying to live up to other’s expectations will find it refreshingly real.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Drama/ romance.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Sophie Hyde.

Release date: 12th Sept 2019.

Running time: 109 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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