Sophie Hyde’s Animals has picked itself both a good and bad year to release. On the one hand, the all-conquering success of Fleabag’s second season has proven that audiences are hungry for tales of unrepentant, often calamitous, women and female companionship. On the other, all of Animals’s many weaknesses fall into even sharper relief when compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s opus. As its lead characters energetically stagger from drunken parties to uncomfortable family dinners, you can’t help but wish you were watching the superior version of this story, one with a stronger sense of identity and a whole barrel-load of extra laughs.
Adapting her own novel, Emma Jane Unsworth’s script can never decide if it’s celebrating or condemning the toxic, cyclical friendship between Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat), two hard-partying thirty-somethings living together in Dublin. They’ve clearly been friends since uni, but their relationship allows them to stagnate in their respective comfort zones without chasing their real ambitions. With Laura’s younger sister married and pregnant and a new relationship with driven pianist Jim (Fra Fee), something has to give. This plot spins its wheels constantly, often chucking itself back to square one and essentially repeating scenes of Laura and Tyler partying and having squabbles.
It makes the 110 minute runtime feel a lot longer than that as you wait for Animals to make any sort of progress at all. Self-pitying listlessness is one of the main character traits for both of the leads, making it hard to care about them, despite impressive performances from both Grainger and Shawkat. An aspiring poet, Tyler’s dialogue is heightened and flowery, and Shawkat wrings a lot of charm out of this conceit. It’s a great bit of casting, but her presence also implies a more comedic bent than Animals ends up actually taking, genuine gags few and far between.
Hyde has an unfortunate habit of launching into recap montages whenever Laura or Tyler start reflecting on something, so you have to spend a chunk of the already overlong film rewatching the same film. Besides a great sequence of the pair disastrously visiting a newborn baby, these scenes really don’t hold enough interest to watch a second time and by the time the ending finally rolled around, my patience had been severely tested.