Female friendships are complicated, but should be able to stand the test of time according to Sophie Hyde’s (52 Tuesdays) characters in Animals. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Emma Jane Unsworth (who also wrote the screenplay for this feature), Animals explores the fluctuating friendship between Laura and Tyler, two millennials who spend their nights submitting themselves to the arousing effects of sex, drugs and alcohol and their mornings recovering and planning to repeat the process. But amidst their avoidance of adulthood and responsibility, one of them gets a taste of the alternative, which initiates a brokenness in their friendship and unravels a hardship neither one of them had experienced before.
For the first 15 minutes of Hyde’s feature, viewers can expect a boisterous yet dark showcase of Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler’s (Alia Shawkat) habitual crave of inebriation and sexual freedom as they travel from bar to bar and pick up any man they please. Laura is the young Irish writer suffering from a 10-year block due to her tendency to be distracted by her addictions. And Tyler, the impecunious American free bird, refuses to give up any part of her sybaritic lifestyle. Together, this co-dependent duo represents the unbreakable bond of sisterhood smothered in an intoxicating world of vices.
It’s an interesting introduction to the main characters because the film soon unravels into Laura’s intriguing desire of the world in which her sister lives: marriage with a baby on the way. Conversely, Tyler holds steadfast on her belief that that life is not for them, which sets the stage for their incoming conflict.
This character opposition is when the story soars and is ushered in upon the arrival of the dreamy and put-together concert pianist Jim (Fra Fee), who eventually becomes Laura’s love interest. Torn and feeling like she’s been betrayed, Tyler sets into motion some unpredictable events in attempt to tarnish Jim and Laura’s love. But out of the secrets and lies reveals an awakening in their friendship that almost nails the reality of betrayal and jealousy within estranged female friendships.
Unsworth’s script is also at its high when audiences witness Laura’s change within her growing relationship with Jim. The film offers realistic viewpoints and asks important questions about who we are in relationships. For Laura, she struggles with maintaining her identity when she has to trade in her vices to give in to her responsibility of writing. This character development makes for some fascinating cinema, and watching Laura’s journey unfold within her relationship is enchanting.
At times, Animals underplants its seeds with ideas of varying views of feminism, but neglects to push this narrative to the forefront with its evolving main character. Incorporating bold and differing positions on that subject matter would have strengthened Unsworth’s script, which struggled to define and enrich most characters’ existence outside of serving Laura’s progression. As a result, these characters tended to come off flat and their actions predictable, as they superficially served the central story. Additionally, Tyler’s background is only hinted at, which makes her jealousy seem irrational and her attempts at ruining Laura’s love life seem unusually cruel towards a woman who’s supposed to be her best friend. So for a film that aims to celebrate sisterhood amidst hardship and hindrances, it falls just shy of its best potential.
But when the film struggles to dive deep into its supporting characters, it is Holliday Grainger who commands the viewers’ attention. Grainger’s presence onscreen as she vacillates between settling down and committing to her writing or succumbing to her vices is perfectly chaotic. Every move she makes is a great display of her character’s disposition, which appropriately speaks to viewers who can relate to the difficult labors of fighting inner demons and becoming a better version of themselves.
Despite some roadblocks that inhibit Animals from soaring to greatness, the story will resonate with many women around the world. With a standout performance from lead actress Holliday Grainger, the film succeeds best when it dissects female friendship while exploring individuality in relationships. These concepts are some of the most intriguing of 2019’s Sundance film festival, which will make audiences around the world question their own animalistic desires.