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Significantly hipper, more thoughtful and more nuanced than your typical RomCom, while being significantly tamer, more formulaic and more commercially-minded than her previous film 52 Tuesdays, Adelaide-born director Sophie Hyde’s Animals, an adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel (Unsworth also wrote the screenplay), is a variant on a very well-worn trope: what happens to a friendship centered on partying when one of the friends decides to grow up.
In this case, it is Laura (Holliday Grainger) who’s leaving her drink-and-drug buddy Tyler (Alia Shawcat) behind by getting engaged to Jim (Fra Fee). The milieu is modern Dublin, so bars are everywhere, and the film spends a lot of time in them; these places and the city are rather beautifully shot, and the film’s sense of place is strong.
Grainger is superb, and never better than in the section of the film where she falls in love with Jim. Falling in love is a hard thing to show, but Grainger shows it, often silently in close-up, as, for example, she watches Jim play piano. She is the best thing about the film.
Unfortunately Shawkat, who has been excellent in the TV show Search Party, is burdened with the far worse written role, and she can’t make it work. Almost every one of her lines sounds like words on a page. Tyler is a self-styled dandy, deliberately speaking floridly, but the words just don’t come out either naturally or as stylistic self-expression. It’s a labored performance that weighs down the film’s essentially breezy tone.
As a modest female buddy film whose target audience will be female buddies who see themselves in the characters, Hyde’s sophomore effort is a modest achievement. I hope her next one sees her re-finding the bold risk-taking of 52 Tuesdays, a far more interesting film.