Sophie Hyde’s sweaty glitter-fuelled comedy, ANIMALS, screened at Sundance London 2019, draws us into the lives of Dubliners Laura and Tyler. Long-time best mates, the Native-Irish Laura (Holliday Grainger) and US party animal Tyler (Alia Shawkat) live together in a run down, baroque-style apartment, holding down part-time jobs and sinking themselves into the intoxicating city nightlife on the regular. Tyler is at odds with her stateside relatives, and therefore Laura has brought her into her own family life – where she is openly accepted even if the lifestyles of the nearly-30-year-olds are questioned.
Things start to take a turn as Laura hooks up with a charming pianist Jim, who endorses her feverish attempts to write her book, and they both try to circumnavigate their worlds together. In addition, Laura’s sister’s pregnancy starts to put a strain on both the girls, as they begin to question where their lives are at. The heady intro sucks the viewer into the vivacious, gin-soaked lifestyle that takes one back to the blissful carefree nights of dancing, but equally the painful grey mornings after. Hyde captures these life-changing moments so well, the desire to live in a world free of responsibilities, but also encapsulating the moments that shock you into reality. Her ability to visually depict the tactility of their lives makes it feel all the more real; from the feathery, lightness of morning sex, and Jim’s tentative piano skills.
“The portrayal of Laura as a saintly sinner is frustrating. The film insinuates that, as the protagonist, she should be forgiven for her sins…”
As their tensions begin to bubble over, you achingly anticipate a great bust-up – it is assumed this is going to transpire, but the result doesn’t quite reach this heightened potential. The portrayal of Laura as a saintly sinner is frustrating. The film insinuates that, as the protagonist, she should be forgiven for her sins, but brandishes Tyler as the nefarious and troublesome misfit when, in fact, all characters have their qualities and flaws in equal measures. At the very least, Tyler is authentic in her demeanour and is unapologetically proud, and this vigour commands more respect that Laura’s flittering alliances between her head and her heart.
“What the film does eloquently nail is that the two women strongly believe in feminist ideology and independence, but to differing degrees.”
What the film does eloquently nail is that the two women strongly believe in feminist ideology and independence, but to differing degrees. Tyler is completely rejecting of all patriarchal-focused traditions including normal societal life expectations such as moving in with a partner, marriage and babies (in this order) once you hit your 30s. Laura is also still very supportive of female autonomy and independence, but her poetry still leans upon her love of men, the more submissive aspects of relationships and re-defining traditions as opposed to complete rejection. The women clash upon these ideas and struggle to find a co-existence. The emotions and opinions of both are completely understandable and valid, but it does reflect a current issue of infighting and partisanship within the feminist ideological discourse.
ANIMALS has an undeniably charming quality to it, and the vivacious nature of the duo when they are together gives them the air of invincibility. However, no amount of foundation and liner can entirely disguise the shadowy antics or the night before, or cover up the obscure gaps where the film fails in trying to be profound. The flashbacks and sisterly discussions don’t seek to invalidate the decisions of youth, but instead cement them into memories of the past: the reckless and the profound.