The onscreen chemistry between Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) is what makes Animals impossible to look away from. It isn’t uncommon to tell the story of two female best friends onscreen. We see it often in shows like Girls or Broad City, which give semi-realistic and often comical looks at the relationships between women during their mid-to-late-twenties-to-early-thirties. What makes Sophie Hyde’s Animals slightly different is that it takes a hard look at the often confusing time in between young adulthood and real adulthood.
Based on a book of the same name and written by Emma Jane Unsworth, Animals follows the story of two women navigating through life in Dublin on a drug and alcohol-fueled haze. Laura, a writer, grapples with the fact that the last decade has flown by with virtually nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, Tyler tries to maintain the carefree life she lived in her twenties as she approaches her thirtieth birthday. When Laura meets a man named James (Fra Fee) and becomes serious, she must learn to balance her old life with the new—or change herself completely. As Tyler becomes increasingly jealous of Laura’s life, her own spins out of control until she can no longer maintain the facade she had kept up beforehand.
There’s something oddly saddening about the way Tyler navigates through the story. As an audience we’re rarely given a look at her inner character and left, instead, to see her as others do. A clown at heart, Tyler navigates through life entertaining those around her. When that curtain is peeled back, though, we see a girl that’s ultimately lost and a bit sad. A particularly heartbreaking scene shows Tyler still awake once everyone has left her birthday party. With no one around to entertain, she’s left wandering around an empty room drunkenly covering herself in tinsel before eventually passing out on the couch. It’s a somber thing to watch onscreen, but gives another level of depth to an otherwise cliche’d character. This scene makes it clear that the extroverted, independent Tyler is actually quite lonely and vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Laura’s increasing dichotomy of wanting to maintain her old life with Tyler and flourish in her new one with James becomes harder as the story goes on. When James decides to quit drinking, Laura isn’t sure how to take the news. As a writer, Laura is also struggling with the realization that her twenties were spent doing everything but creating. “Am I a failure?” she asks various characters after being told that she needs to grow up or people will think she’s a tragedy. It’s clear Laura is struggling with who she is and who she thinks she needs to be.
For this, her relationship with Tyler seems somewhat metaphorical of the relationship that addicts have with whatever substance they’re addicted to. Each time she tries to better herself, she becomes distracted by Tyler’s need to entertain. It plays out sort of like a cartoon, where a protagonist is challenged by the tiny devil on her shoulder. Eventually she begins blaming Tyler for her own poor decisions, similar to how an addict would blame a substance instead of taking responsibility. When Laura finally takes a hard look at herself in the mirror after a long night of partying, she has to come to terms with the fact that she alone is responsible for her own actions.
It may seem as if the film perpetuates classic tropes that a woman’s life begins once she meets a man to help her. This isn’t the case, though, as Laura & Tyler are eventually challenged with having to grow up on their own. In this sense, the film demonstrates the complexity of relationships between two female characters in a way that seems very real. Not everyone grows at the same pace, and that reality is portrayed well in this heartfelt story.
Overall, Animals is a touching story about two friends navigating through early adulthood that may not be able to break out of the niche it puts itself into when it comes to distribution. The dialogue is often cliche to the point of being cringe-worthy. This is especially true in Tyler’s lines about basic feminist concepts and David Yates quotes that are often misguided and a bit pretentious.