52 Tuesdays director Sophie Hyde trades her beloved Adelaide for Dublin with Animals, a beautiful, messy friendship drama that’s part Sofia Coppola, part Tracey Emin.
“The book is the thing that really drew me into it,” Hyde tells The Adelaide Review. “I loved it and I loved the whole world of it.”
Adapted by Emma Jane Unsworth from her own 2014 novel, Animals sees two friends enter the 10th year of a hard-partying friendship to find that for all their arty banter and elegantly curated mess of a flat, they have little to show for their 20s.
Working collaboratively with Unsworth from early in the adaptation process, Animals was a story that resonated with Hyde’s own experience as a creator. “We are the same age, so we had a shared nostalgia for a certain time in our life I think,” she says.
“I felt like I was seeing these characters that felt very familiar to me, but I wasn’t seeing them much on screen. Women’s stories were being told in a certain way, and there was a bit of ‘girls behaving badly’, but there wasn’t a lot of depth underneath that – there’s a kind of moralising. I wanted to see something that felt so visceral and connected to my own experience I suppose.”
Trading the book’s Manchester setting for Dublin, Animals pulls off an enviable bit of casting with Holliday Grainger (Strike) and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Search Party) as its lead duo. Laura (Grainger) is a self-described writer despite spending more time making people’s coffee, while the more enigmatic Tyler (Shawkat) prioritises inspiration (read: drinking and occasionally snorting) over the actual work of creation.
“There’s a kind of pretentiousness about them, and they are heavy partiers,” Hyde explains, namechecking 1987’s Withnail and I as a key inspiration. “The film really explores what happens when one of them realises that she hasn’t actually been doing that much with her life.
“It has this set up that’s almost like a rom-com – a decision between two lives, or two people. But really, I think the film is about a friendship, and the fact that sometimes with friendships you need them to end and let go even though they’re beautiful and wonderful and worth celebrating.”
It’s a story that is particularly of the moment, capturing a kind of adult millennial experience and female friendship that evokes the work of Irish writer Sally Rooney and filmmakers such as Desiree Akhavan. “Sally Rooney’s first book Conversations with Friends has got real resonance with this work, and you’ve got Broad City and [Akhavan’s] The Bisexual, there’s a bunch of those.
“But they’re very much set in a comic world, and although Animals has humour in it, it isn’t so much rooted in comedy. And I think that obviously sitcoms like Broad City there’s so much enjoyment in that, but I guess there is something about being a maker and creator that’s inside Animals that’s not in those stories as much.”
Led by first-time actors and filmed in sequence over a calendar year, Hyde’s first feature 52 Tuesdays was a unique picture in more ways than one. As a result, the established stars, conventional shooting schedule and overseas location meant Animals brought with it many firsts.
Hyde’s first feature 52 Tuesdays
“Truthfully, there’s nothing like the pleasure of the control and intimacy that we had with 52 Tuesdays,” Hyde says. “Making something where what you’re making, and the way you’re making it, is such a choice, is so enjoyable. But Animals still had elements of that; we ended up in Dublin, with a whole lot of new people discovering and falling in love with a city and each other, and that bled in to the story, and fed in to what we were doing.”
The result is a visually stunning and often surprising film, which has at its core the pairing of Grainger and Shawkat, who create a relationship that is at once loving, callous and ultimately doomed. “They’re both just so bloody excellent,” Hyde says of her stars. “They both grew up onscreen and are just consummate professionals. We had a rehearsal process, and spent a lot of time talking, set them a lot of tasks to get to know each other and the other characters in this new city.
“They created something very intimate and very lived-in.”
Animals will make its Australian premiere as part of Adelaide Film Festival POP UP at GU Film House on Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6