And so it’s that time of year again: the heat is slowly unleashing its power upon us and now begins four months of moaning Brits complaining about sweaty tubes and buses (granted, we have much bigger things to complaining about right now, but there we are). But with the slowly rising temperatures settling in, it’s time for a slice of Utah coldness with the Sundance Film Festival returning to London. There’s much to see, too much in fact, so let’s not waste any time.
Sophie Hyde’s Animals, based on the novel of the same name by Emma Jane Unsworth and who also pens the screenplay, was hailed as one of the big “must-sees” after its debut back in January and it’s not difficult to see just why it make such a splash across the pond back then. The story of two best friends, Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat), who have been by each other’s side for over a decade and are on the cusp of 30-something without much to show for it – Laura dreams of being a writer but has been blocked for years, whilst Tyler is living vicariously due to leaving her family in the US. Their care-free, responsibility-lite friendship changes when Laura meets and subsequently gets engaged to a local Irish piano player.
It’s a universal life crossroads is the big 3-0, made even more colossal when life hasn’t gone the way you hoped it would a decade earlier: when dreams where big and broad while the reality is small and dark with those alternate versions of what could have been overtaking you like sports cars on an endless motorway, and Hyde beautifully illustrates such coming-of-age growing pains with deftness and a real flair. There is a jarring nature to proceedings as we get our heads around the sheer volume of time and experiences the two ladies have been on together but it’s never to the detriment of them or the film itself, instead only adding to the weight of this undeniable love between the duo and gives the film a defiant edge.
And what a duo it is with both our leads performing wonderfully throughout with Grainger stealing the show with an absolute powerhouse of a performance that is as thunderous as it is heartbreaking. Anyone that has ever felt like a stifled creative will feel and see so much in Laura’s life that could quite easily be your own, feeling like ones worst enemy and having friends who don’t quite understand that passion, and Grainger’s melancholic, poignant portrayal is easily one of the best of the year. Shawkat, meanwhile, has always been a deft, insightful performer and here she follows on from countless other noteworthy performances with another that’s as ferocious yet ultimately heartbreaking as anything she has done.
With its sharp edges, brutal honesty and explicitness, Animals may not be for everybody but the rewards are abundant for a film that oozes wit and honesty in spades and headlined by two absolutely dynamite central performances which are worth the price of admission alone.
Scott J.Davies | [rating=4]
Comedy, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 2019 Sundance London | 31 st May / 2nd June, 2nd August (UK Cinema) | Picturehouse Entertainment | Dir.Sophie Hyde | Holliday Grainger , Alia Shawkat