by Toby Woollaston
“God forbid our reality should ruin the big jazzy fantasy”…such are the many shrewd exclamations of Animals, a film that explores the existential optimism of two young women. It is everything you’d expect from a plucky Irish-Aussie co-production—a spirited, punchy tale that sparkles with a heady mix of confident youthful enthusiasm and dark sardonic humour.
A sassy wise-cracking American, Tyler (played by Alia Shawkat), and local wannabe writer, Laura (Holliday Grainger), are two heavy-drinking Dublin besties and the world is their oyster. Their effervescent friendship sniffs out poetic reckoning and drug-addled hedonism at every turn, but when Laura starts to question their lifestyle, cracks begin to appear in their friendship. Surrounding herself with an awkward mix of Dublin pub dwellers, artistic intelligentsia and her conventional family, Laura’s life is caught in the push-and-pull between partying, bohemian fervour, and traditional life choices. Imagine the relational messiness of A Date for Mad Mary meets the feminist smarts of Jane Campion’s Bright Star and you’ll get an idea of where Animals sits both tonally and topically.
Adapting the script from her own novel, and in her first feature, Emma Jane Unsworth has penned a screenplay that spits with sharp wit, adroitly balancing a love story with one of existential crisis and smothering friendship. The devil is in the detail and Unsworth seems to have plenty of devils to talk about, lacing her script with snappy repartee, which while plentiful, does occasionally border on being overbearing and suffers at the hands of its own cleverness. Nonetheless, Unsworth’s screenplay shows enough agility to suggest her’s is a talent worth keeping an eye on.
Her pairing with Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays), a director with clear feminist leanings, make Laura and Tyler’s relationship all the more potent with Laura defining herself as “blazing a new way through old traditions”. Yet, surprisingly the film doesn’t let feminism become a distraction, rather allowing the two women forge out their own destinies through a more conventional narrative arc. Ultimately, Animals is an admirable take on self-discovery and reminds us that change is inevitable.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.