Adapted from the eponymous 2014 novel, Sophie Hyde’s Animals is a gritty, drug-fuelled portrait of the destructive relationship between two best friends who have spent a decade living and partying in Dublin. At times taxing, frustrating and deeply uncomfortable to watch, Hyde nevertheless presents an honest and unflinching study of millennial women in crisis.
Laura (Holliday Grainger) and her best friend Tyler (Alia Shawkat) are flatmates, best friends, and practically family. Laura struggles as a barista and would-be novelist, whereas Tyler, an American estranged from her family, has apparently limitless funds for their hedonistic lifestyle. Their relationship is established by a frenzied montage of clubbing, hard drugs, casual sex, and stumbling home together in the small hours. You’d be hard pressed to recall a scene that doesn’t feature a bottle of white wine. However, when Laura meets a sweet but decidedly more domestic musician named Jim (Fra Fee), the pair fall quickly in love, altering the course of Laura and Tyler’s life plans when she decides to move out. Tyler remedies this by only partying harder, whilst Laura struggles to reconcile the seemingly incongruous desires that call to her.
The narrative’s literary origins are evident in its fragmented, internally contemplative character studies. The use of montage, non-verbal sequences, and shifts in time often feel messy and disjointed, but also serve to reflect the instability and exasperation Laura experiences as she muddles through the year. She phases between her desire to settle down with Jim and her inability to resist Tyler’s charm, but the two become increasingly difficult to juggle. Tyler doesn’t hide the fact that she dislikes the unadventurous Jim, whilst the latter suggests to Laura that she go sober.
Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat have great chemistry that crackles in the comedic scenes whilst also cementing the most emotional moments. Grainger shows her great range in portraying Laura’s recklessness and deep insecurity. Shawkat is an expected scene-stealer, but the fiery comic talent is underserved by a lack of depth in Tyler’s character. Whilst it is clearly Laura’s story, there is a lot we never learn about Tyler’s past and her individuality beyond her all-consuming relationship with Laura.
Though the jaded ambivalence Animals might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is an admirable feat in that it does not necessarily offer an attempt at excusing either of the women’s irresponsible choices, nor smoothing over the more complicated, damaged aspects of their personalities. It’s rare that Laura and Tyler are allowed to be destructive and selfish in pursuit of self-discovery and creativity, whilst also remaining loyal, supportive friends at their core. Though often painful to reflect on, Hyde’s film captures the truthful fear of growing up and failing at the things you care about – a vulnerability that many viewers will find equal distress and comfort in embracing.