Can you define a film as coming-of-age when its protagonist is pushing 30? A strange culture shift has occurred for many millenials (many of whom are now reaching their 40th birthdays), whereby there’s a tendency to delay adulthood. As tabloid newspapers are fond of reminding us - millennials aren’t buying houses, aren’t getting married and are generally rejecting the standard template of adulthood set out for them by previous generations.
Sophie Hyde’s Animals (adapted from Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name) deals with this phenomenon through the lens of two young women, both of whom are teetering on the edge of an abyss that leads to settling down, spouses and getting ‘real’ jobs. And yes, it's definitely a coming-of-age film. Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have been friends for ten years and have spent the vast majority of that time partying their way around Dublin and living together in a house adorned with mismatched furniture, hardwood floors and a whiff of artistry. They sleep in the same bed, they work at the same coffee shop (though we never actually see them working) and when Laura meets talented pianist Jim (Fra Fee), the two women begin a journey that might see their friendship change forever.
Describing Laura and Tyler as women almost feels inaccurate - most of the time, the two are chugging white wine like sixteen year olds who have just found their parents alcohol stash, or dipping their fingers in an endless supply of MDMA. They are young girls having the time of their lives. So when Laura’s sister announces that she is having a baby, Laura is quickly forced to take stock of her life. An aspiring writer who has written an equal amount of pages to years she has been writing, Laura suddenly begins to feel that maybe (just maybe) it’s time to grow up and start the writing career she is floundering around with, along with moving out of Tyler's flat and weaning herself off of a good-time friendship.
It would have been easy for Hyde to frame Laura and Tyler’s emotional arc as simply ‘stay young and fun vs grow up’. Fortunately, Hyde has already proved her capabilities at handling nuanced subjects - Hyde's previous film 52 Tuesdays is a fantastic example of this - and Animals doesn’t take a simplistic view of the situation Laura finds herself in. There’s no judgement on Laura’s decision-making, which is one of the reasons why the film works so well. Hyde doesn’t present a right or a wrong path for Laura, only choices.
The film may ring a little too close to home for those in their late twenties or early thirties, but even in its darkest moments Hyde ensures that humour is an integral part of the story. From spilling red wine over her sister’s newborn baby, to a pretentious prose reading party, Animals doesn’t shy away from just how excruciating being a human can be sometimes. And how better to deal with the pain of it all than by laughing it away.
Hyde’s film isn’t free from issues, though. Laura and Tyler’s consistent drug use feels slightly glamorised throughout the film which felt odd in comparison to the continued discussion of alcohol dependency in relation to Laura’s writing. The cyclical nature of Laura and Tyler partying, taking drugs, drinking etc. also began to feel pretty repetitive towards the end of the film’s almost two hour run-time – who would have expected that watching other people partying over and over again would get boring? This feeds into an additional issue with the pacing – the film becomes more and more confusing in the second half in terms of the passing of time. In one respect, this mirrors Laura’s mental state but equally, it’s frustrating to contend with as a viewer.
Whilst it gives Grainger the space to spread her wings and show us what she can do in a contemporary piece, Shawkat actually feels quite under-utilised. What she does, she does incredibly well, but the script doesn’t give her much room to move past the stereotype of a party girl, dressed in furs and feathers, dealing with personal issues by becoming inebriated. Shawkat stuns anyway (she is certainly one of the best actors working today), it's just a shame that the script couldn't give her a bit more rope.
Despite its flaws, or perhaps in spite of them, Hyde’s film shines bright. It’s an authentic portrayal of the lie we are told as women; the idea that we can have it all. It also cleverly dissects ideas about creativity, friendship and adulthood – the older we get, the less these concepts seem as watertight as they did when we were younger. Animals is honest, funny and highly relatable.