Directed by Sophie Hyde. Starring Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy, Amy Molloy.
The Plot: Laura (Holliday Grainger) is a Dublin barista who lives with her bestie, American ex-pat Tyler (Alia Shawkat). Laura has been doodling with the idea of writing a book for the last decade, but can’t quite get the words into a cohesive form. Now in her early 30s, she’s reached that stage when the fun and games of her 20s must yield to something resembling conventional normality. Especially now that her sister has settled down and is expecting. She catches the eye of musician Jim (Fra Fee) and soon they start spending time together. Much to the irritation of the flamboyant Tyler, who is too free-spirited to have a conventional life…
The Verdict: Despite all the glitz and glamour of the film industry,it can be hard enough to get independent films made these days, especially ones that focus on the firm bonds of female friendship. Just ask second-time director Sophie Hyde, who had to battle to get funding for her new film Animals. Based on the novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, it was meant to be shot in Unsworth’s native city of Manchester. However, the necessities of film funding resulted in Animals being shot in Dublin – playing itself thankfully, rather than standing-in for Manchester. While the intent of both Hyde and Unsworth is admirable in portraying a female-driven story onscreen (there really aren’t enough of them), the result falls far short of those ambitions.
The finger of blame can be firmly pointed at Unsworth’s own script, which is one part good to two parts ‘meh’. The lively first act establishes the committed bonds between Laura, an aspiring writer and Tyler, who mostly aspires to drinking wine and having fun while she hurtles towards 30. Finding a boyfriend, settling down, getting married, having a baby… That doesn’t seem to interest either of them at first, until Laura decides that it’s time for her to put away her wild party ways. Unsworth channels some of her own experiences into this well-drawn friendship and the film is at its best when Grainger (sporting a decent Irish accent) and Shawkat (the right side of kooky) are onscreen. When they’re separated, the film falters fast.
The rest of the film has the duo only occasionally having the laugh, as Laura becomes distracted by Jim and then another potential interest, poet Marty (Dermot Murphy). These half-baked relationships suffer from a distinct lack of character development. The relationship between Laura and new beau Jim isn’t given the breathing space to develop by Unsworth and Hyde. Everything moves too quickly, hampered by a visible lack of chemistry between Grainger and Fee. Characters hanging out at wine bars and poetry recitals makes Dublin’s cultural side look cool, but adds nothing to the story itself. It’s a story that doesn’t seem to go anywhere in particular, with no proper character arc for Laura. Unsworth even inserts a late plot development that could potentially change the course of Laura’s future… then abruptly ends the film.
Animals is a frustrating experience. There’s a good film in here somewhere, but it’s been lost amidst an unsatisfactory script which fails to develop the relationships other than that between Laura and Tyler. The film really needed a lot more of them together and a lot less of everyone else. These two characters are like sparkling champagne when together, with witty dialogue flowing freely. When apart, the film is like a glass of champagne that has been sitting on the mantelpiece for a day. All the fizz has gone out, leaving a flat aftertaste. These Animals have lost their voice and go out with a whimper.