Saturday, February 2, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Animals

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Sophie Hyde

Best friends have a special relationship with a bond not easily broken. Friendships don’t always last a lifetime, and shifting circumstances in each of their lives, including geography and career, can influence their trajectory. If the friends are not romantically attracted to each other, or even if they are, a schism may come when one begins a partnership with someone else while the other does not. Activities previously reserved for just two may now take on a different nature, and though it’s possible to get through it and find a healthy balance between two types of relationships, it has the potential to forever alter the way two people relate to each other.

Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) live together in Dublin, partying hard and drinking even harder each night. Most mornings, they wake up passed out somewhere in their flat after having gone around the room combining each half-drunk glass of white wine. After her sister Jean (Amy Molly) announces that she is pregnant, Laura meets Jim (Fra Fee), a serious pianist, and their romance moves forward in a way that makes her realize that perhaps she needs to start growing up and finish the novel she’s been working on for ten years.

This film wastes no time in establishing its two protagonists as wild women who know how to truly experience life, even if they’re not quite as skilled at recognizing their own boundaries. They enjoy the lavishness and predictable destructiveness of their behavior, and the joy of sharing it together. When Jim, who barely drinks, is introduced, Tyler immediately sees him as a hostile threat who will dampen Laura’s energy, while Laura mistakenly believes that she can find a way to coexist in these two worlds, a notion Jim initially supports but inevitably realizes is unrealistic.

Grainger delivers an exceptional lead performance here, leaning into Laura’s uncontrollable side and showcasing the miserable process of discovering that she can’t keep up with herself. Shawkat, recently seen as the subtler of two women with a close relationship in “Duck Butter,” throws herself headfirst into Tyler’s antiestablishment attitude, often proudly taking up all the energy in the room. Together, they’re a formidable pair, immensely watchable when they’re on the same (ram)page and just as compelling as they begin to drift apart. Director Sophie Hyde’s feature follow-up to the intriguing “52 Tuesdays” is a true success. This is an endearing and, at times, appropriately cringe-worthy portrait of friendship, one that manages to be magnificently entertaining and resounding.


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