Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy
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…wins us over with its gentle affection for its flawed characters.
The Irish are famed for their love of poetry and song, their conviviality, their storytelling and their affectionate humour. And then there is the heavy drinking. All of these aspects are represented in spades in this buddy movie with a twist, a tale of two girls on the loose awash in a sea of wine.
Tyler (a grab-you-by-the lapels performance from Alia Shawkat) is the dark and stormy type. She even drinks that concoction when she is not slurping buckets of white wine or doing tequila shots or snorting substances. She is determined to live life to the full. She scorns the comfortable suburban life and the conventional dream of getting hitched and having babies. As she tells her gal-pal Laura (Holliday Grainger) when they find themselves in the pre-dawn streets, the silence of the suburbs is a lie and a trap. ‘They sell it as peace but really it is death closing in’.
Laura has been hanging out with Tyler for a decade and has used up most of her twenties by being swept along. This is not to say that she is merely regretful. Not at all, she has been on board for all the friendship-defining hellraising. However, she is a wannabe writer and she buys into the myth that she has to live life to the fullest to gather material (the film is based on a novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, who also adapts the screenplay, which must be partly autobiographical).
Most of Laura’s ‘work’ is still just snatched insights jotted down in the always-carried notebook. But Laura also has a family that loves her and a sister who, by contrast, is getting on with things. The sister has a young baby and she reminds Laura that a child is not a ‘thing that you can just put down when you have had enough’.
The film wins us over with its gentle affection for its flawed characters. As befits a portrait of the artist as a young woman, it has a strong script, which is brought to life by Australian director Sophie Hyde, who was behind the extraordinary Trans drama 52 Tuesdays as well as the TV series Fucking Adelaide.
The ghost of Withnail and I hangs over some of this. That is now the granddaddy of films about a mismatched pair on the fringes of the Arts. That film has the characters celebrating their debauchery and yet making us feel, too, the plangent move towards a final sobering up and a necessary farewell to a youth clung on to too long. Animals is not just that though. It has its own observations to make and its own rhythm and sensibility. It is also crucially a modern women’s story. It is a small film but an authentically realised one.