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ANIMALS review by Mike Catto

02 August 2019

Mike Catto reviews Sophie Hyde's Animals. 

ANIMALS review by Mike Catto

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ANIMALS             Dir. Sophie Hyde             Certificate 12A                  108 minutes

Here’s an Irish set film that manages to be extremely raucous and also tenderly wistful at the same time. Emma Jane Unsworth has adapted her own novel – which I haven’t read – and, for reasons perhaps due to the major funding coming from Screen Australia and Screen Ireland, has transposed the story from the clubs of Manchester to the pubs and craic of Dublin. Presumably, another major funder, Adelaide, wouldn’t have been wild enough for this storyline.               

Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have been flatmates for years. While theirs is a platonic relationship, they are open and intimate about sharing a hedonistic lifestyle of booze, clubs and temporary men. Laura has aspirations to be a novelist but has to make do by being a barista. Gradually she and the gregarious and sassy American sense, and then articulate a belated recognition that with Laura’s ‘Big Three Oh’ looming (Tyler is two years older but none the wiser for it) something is changing.

For Laura it appears to be the fact that she has actually fallen for a feller, the sensible, classically trained pianist Jim (Fra Fee). She moves in with him, to the bewilderment of Tyler, and compounds the ‘offence’ by being too busy with Jim to support Tyler after a family death. The rest of the film charts the breakup of the two girls; their making up again and also the messy, often drunken repercussions and incidents that follow. These include Laura flirting with Marty, a deeply shallow and pretentious hipster poet while Jim is on tour and with Tyler revengefully reading out Laura’s private journal at a party. These and other spats are generally fuelled by drink followed by bouts of remorse…and puking.

That synopsis might give the impression that this is a kitchen sink drama ( not that you could find the sink in the totally non-Marie Kondo pit of the girls’ flat) but, at its best, it is comedy. Episodic in structure, obviously pared down from the novel, the set pieces are often extremely funny. Laura’s reaction to both Marty’s literary clique followed by night of dreadful sex with him is ouch hilarious. But in the midst of these fun bits, there are deeper ramifications. When Laura accidentally soaks her baby niece in wine, it’s funny. But the baby’s mum, Jean reveals that in her youth she too had been a  raving hallion, while noting that there is nothing wrong in wanting married respectability.

Overall, the direction is somewhat broad-brush, and the odd couple theme familiar, but the performances work.  Shawkat’s deadpan delivery contrasts well with what is, for me, the real heart of the film, that of Holliday Grainger’s Laura. Take a one liner, when she is asked what her novel is about. “About ten pages” she answers. On the page that could be said  in any one of many ways. Grainger’s cherubic face manages several expressions in one second. Mischief, self-awareness, defiance and regret. She gives her character genuine depth, even in gross out moments. Even her soft ‘Dublin’ accent holds up against Fra Fee’s authentic Dungannon accent.