Laura (Holliday Grainger) enjoys going out with her best friend Tyler (Alia Shawkat). They drink, do drugs, dance and hook up. When Laura meets Jim (Fra Free), she feels drawn to the stable life he offers. Trapped between her best friend and her lover, and whilst struggling to write a novel, she contemplates what she really wants from life.
Animals is a film about getting older. Laura finds herself caught between the life she leads and the life she feels she ought to lead. Her dissatisfaction with the party life and the mundane leads her to rile against the people around her, “letting both sides down”. Her dilemma is very relatable, even to those who shirk the party life. Anyone who has ever worried that their lifestyle can’t possibly last forever but struggles to think of something more will relate to this film and to Laura.
The humour is a little broad and on the goofy side. Alia Shawkat is aiming for eccentricity and a sort of faux 30s socialite persona, which feels contrived and detracts from the drama. There’s a little too much effort for genuine humour. Holliday Grainger, on the other hand, brings a morose nuance that adds weight and credibility to the film, even as it’s turns become a little contrived as the film goes on.
Animals is at it’s best when exposing the hypocrisy of its characters. Tyler urges Laura to be free and not to become a slave but fails to respect Laura’s actual feelings and is clearly just pursuing her own agenda. Laura judges both her pregnant sister and train wreck friend whilst failing to actually commit to a lifestyle of her own. She even sneers at her fellow writers who have never managed to actually write something.
There’s a soulful angst at the heart of Animals. Although the humour reeks of artifice, it’s a relatable story with a very strong lead performance and compelling direction.
Animals is screening at London Sundance at the Picturehouse Central.