Sydney Film Festival Review: Animals (2019)

Exploring the complexities of female friendship in a manner that’s all too realistic, Sophie Hyde’s sophomore project Animals – the follow-up to her acclaimed debut 52 Tuesdays – adopts an organic rawness that’s often missing from stories detailing the severing and eventual re-connection of cinema friendships.

Penned by Emma Jane Unsworth, working off her own 2014 novel of the same name, Animals focuses on the “play hard, work less so” dynamic of Dublin-based best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat).  Local Laura is an aspiring writer, though she’s penned so little that her financial survival is based off her day-job as a barista and the bankrolling of American Tyler, who’s living off her family’s wealth.  As much as Laura’s frustrations towards her writing indicate she takes this aspiration seriously, her priorities (and indeed that of Tyler’s too) primarily consist of heavy drinking, recreational drug taking, and a healthy amount of attachment-free sex.

The seemingly unbreakable bond between the two becomes unexpectedly tested though when Laura meets Jim (Fra Fee), a classical pianist with an aversion to alcohol, who Tyler takes a near-immediate disliking to due to both his cleaner living lifestyle and the manifestation of rule-abiding he represents.  The “best friend disliking the new boyfriend” story arc is one we’ve seen before, so it’s easy to want to dismiss Animals off that plot point, but Hyde’s film is less about the physicality of Jim’s interrupting presence and more what it represents emotionally for Laura and Tyler, the duo clearly at odds with one another regarding certain aspects of each other’s personalities that they’ve never completely addressed.

A film that rides largely off the back of its central relationship, Animals has an absolute dynamic pairing in Grainger and Shawkat.  Their characters are absolutely flawed without question, and Unsworth’s script refuses to paint them with sugar-coated strokes, but together they create such an intoxicating pairing that you can’t help but barrack for both of them, even if means having to detach from one another.  There’s no right or wrong answer as to how Laura and Tyler, and even Jim for that matter, should navigate the unconventional love triangle they find themselves in, further fueling our investment as an audience as we watch a series of characters that appear all too relatable.

The journey of self-discovery at the core of Animals may not adhere to the “happily ever after” we hope for, but it’s in its truthful depiction of chaotic reality that it proves highly effective and immensely satisfying.

Animals is screening as part of the 2019 Sydney Film Festival (June 5th – 16th).  Session times and festival information can be found here

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