Film Review: Animals

A freewheeling millennial friendship nears its expiration date in a gorgeously messy second feature from Adelaide director Sophie Hyde.

For the best part of a decade friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have been living together in the same artfully squalid Dublin flat, drinking at the same student pubs and, one imagines, having variations of the same deep and meaningful conversations.

The arrival of a handsome and talented love interest for Laura is a shockwave akin to turning the lights on at the end of a party, as her post-university glory years with Tyler begin to look more like a lost decade. Somewhere, those dreams of being a writer began to consist primarily of telling people she’s a writer… rather than actually writing.

The film is initially difficult to watch, like being the sole sober person at a boozy early-20s house party. We watch and cringe as the pair swap pseudo-intellectual declarations and pretentious literary allusions, and wonder, “Can these people hear themselves?” As the film progresses it becomes clear that this is entirely the point, as the cracks in Laura and Tyler’s self-consciously curated identities begin to emerge along with the degree to which this co-dependent relationship will stifle their own personal growth.

While surface-level comparisons to Broad City ultimately fall short, the film admirably presents its lead pair in various states of is-this-too-much-information intimacy rarely allowed in onscreen depictions of femininity – like Abbi and Illana, Animals is proud to show women being their grossest selves. The use of a bin-scavenging fox as a not-so-subtle visual motif also echoes Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s recent second season of Fleabag, not as a sign of derivation (Animals premiered in Adelaide in April) but perhaps that there is a deep well of shared experience that is only now beginning to be tapped into in mainstream storytelling.

And while the line between the affectations of the characters and the writing itself occasionally blurs (Emma Jane Unsworth adapts her own 2014 novel, and the dialogue often sounds like it), Hyde’s longtime cinematographer Bryan Mason (52 Tuesdays) ensures the film is at all times an arresting experience, with beautiful, lived-in production design by Louise Matthews and an eye-popping wardrobe of op shop finds and very cosy-looking jumpers from costume designer Renate Henschke.

While Animals doesn’t quite match the refreshing, quietly bold ambition of Hyde’s Adelaide-set debut 52 Tuesdays (how could it?), the film is a very watchable study of two women as they begin to realise the second F in BFF is an impossible promise.

Animals (M) is in cinemas now

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