ANIMALS, Australia/Ireland, 2019. Starring Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy, Amy Malloy, Pat Shortt, Olwen Foueere. Kwaku Fortune. Directed by Sophie Hyde. 109 minutes. Rated MA (Strong sex scenes and drug use).
The animals of the title are two party-girls. And, for most of the film they are partying. They are two young women, in fact, turning 30, a decade of party life of more, drugs, booze, sex, hedonistic indulgence and no sign of it stopping. Or, are there some signs?
The film is based on a novel by Emma Jane Unsworth which was very popular. She has written the screenplay. The film was directed by South Australian, Sophie Hyde, who made 52 Tuesdays. The production was filmed in Ireland and post-production in Australia. So, the setting is Dublin.
Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat are Laura and Tyler, Laura from Dublin, a would-be writer who has achieved very little except for jottings and her notebook. Tyler is actually an American living in Ireland, alienated from her family. The two actresses give strong performances but it will depend on audience point of view whether they find them sympathetic or not. Unless the audience are party animals themselves, they might find the constant presentation of the partying a bit wearisome.
But, the screenplay asks, is any change possible, can they really grow up, take responsibilities for their lives? For most of the action, it seems not. And, perhaps for Tyler, there is very little possibility for change, even as she sees some change in Laura.
Music is sometimes able to tame the savage beast – and Laura encounters a dark and brooding musician, Jim (France Fee) who is serious about his music, is attracted to Laura and she to him, opening up possibilities for a long-term relationship, rather to the dismissive disgust of Tyler.
There are some characters who offer balance to the two-party animals, Laura’s pregnant sister, her husband, Laura’s sympathetic parents. At least Laura can see possibilities. But, given the fact that she declares she has had more than a decade of this kind of partying life and stranded herself in it, it is getting rather late in her life to commit herself and make some decisions. And, of course, she makes some wilful mistakes.
Young adults in their 20s and 30s, especially if they are prone to being party animals, may well identify with Laura and Tyler – and see that Tyler whose kind of life is an open highway to…? But that, for Laura, there needs to be some change, some facing the reality of life, some settling down…
Older audiences, even some who have been through similar phases in their life, may find almost 2 hours in the company of Laura and Tyler, no matter how well and effectively made the film is (and it is well-made), very trying (hoping, perhaps, against hope, that the two women will go beyond hedonism into some kind of responsibility).
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Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.