Animals (2019) – Film Review
A question posed to me on the Friday night before watching Animals, after I mentioned that the premise of the film is about female relationships, was as to whom the title refers in that instance. I was therefore curious whilst watching the film to discover the connection. Were the animals, in this film, a reference to humans instead or to the foxes that appear in a few scenes? It is still a question that I am now pondering whilst writing this review.
This screen adaptation of Animals is directed by Sophie Hyde who offers a fresh perspective of the women behaving badly trope previously seen in TV series such as Absolutely Fabulous and Sex and the City and films such as Bridesmaids. The throwback to the 80s in the characters’ dress styles and theatrical poses made me reminisce about Desperately Seeking Susan with such iconic, rebellious female roles. It is not entirely clear as to which period the film is set within, but it did evoke that sense of nostalgia within me.
We are introduced to the hedonistic world of Laura and Tyler, best friends for 10 years, living as flatmates in Dublin who are suffering from that existential angst of approaching their 30s and the ensuing societal pressures placed upon women. They consider themselves to be revolutionaries in eschewing the conventions of society and devoting their lives to unbridled freedom and pleasure and we are along for the rollercoaster ride!
It is always refreshing to watch films about the strength of female friendships, which has been explored recently within Booksmart, and Animals excels in this sense. There have also been references to the film being a female version of Withnail and I, which I have not seen. However, at moments, I found myself comparing the film to Trainspotting especially where there is a similar scene involving a theft of some drugs and a sprint through the city!
Indeed, the film does seem to resemble a homage to the 90s with the strobe lighting on the dancefloor, similar to that period’s rave scene, and the celebration of the ladette culture. I found myself wondering where the scenes of selfie taking were and the posting of images on Instagram on a night out, for a film that is supposedly about millennials!
We are certainly taken on a whistle-stop tour through an unrecognisable Dublin and Laura and Tyler’s lives as the film is only 1 hour 49 minutes long and so it will leave you dizzy with anticipation! The overall sensation that the film provides to its audience is voyeuristic with a brief insight into the raison d’être of the protagonists as there are only a few poignant moments revealed and the directional style fluctuates between creating that distancing and creating intimacy during the close ups in the more tender scenes. The pace of the film only seems to change once Laura enters into a relationship which threatens the dynamics of her close friendship with Tyler.
Whilst Laura and Tyler have great chemistry, they may not be immensely likeable, and the film is unapologetic in this sense as you either love them or hate them, like Marmite! However, the emotional range captured by Holliday Grainger as Laura is superb. As the camera lingers on her face during the first exciting moments of being attracted to someone, it is difficult to resist smiling and remembering those intoxicating moments.
The camera angles at such point provide that dreamy image as the female gaze and the lighting used during the flashbacks of the bedroom scenes create a heavenly aura. It is during those moments that you may feel more sympathetic towards the leads as the camera pans and re-focuses on the characters’ expressions especially during an awkward family dinner scene with an announcement made, which reminded me of a scene during the one episode of Fleabag that I watched.
Even as we watch Laura’s frustrations during what seems to be a permanent writer’s block, as she reluctantly admits to having written just 10 pages within 10 years, the positioning of the camera invokes a degree of sympathy and perhaps even understanding. Simply put, the cinematography throughout the film is also superb!
The premise of the film may sound predictable and clichéd, given its boy meets girl arc, and I would agree that there are some over the top moments mingled with some cringe worthy scenes of the extremity of Laura and Tyler’s indulgences, but the film also subtly highlights cultural and class differences.
During another family dinner in a restaurant, Laura’s boyfriend Jim declares that he is not drinking and there is a pregnant pause from all the family members as well as Tyler and it is within such silence that it is clear that his relationship with Laura is doomed. Such scenes just work brilliantly within the film and I certainly wish that there were more of them.
Another scene that struck me involves a wistful looking Laura in a taxi, reminiscent of Lost in Translation, as she gazes at the city outside with an exhilarating sense of freedom. I did find myself trying to recognise parts of Dublin at such point after my trip there in the spring. In those moments, Holliday Grainger reminded me of Jessie Buckley within Wild Rose and equally Kelly Reilly from the L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck) trilogy and I certainly enjoyed watching her mesmerising performance and will look forward to watching more films in which she stars.
So, to return to the title and that connection with the film, there is only one reference made to ‘animals’ by a poet that Laura meets and has an unintended hilarious encounter with. Perhaps it is this allusion to the safety that animals need which underpins the film as despite Laura and Tyler’s desire to party continuously and to resist conventions they may ultimately be seeking a degree of personal comfort.
Animals is certainly a film to watch for a night out over the weekend with your best female friends as an unadulterated, amusing view of female friendships. By the end of the film, you may find that you are trying to decide which character you resonate with the most!