Irish-made comedy drama depicts the modern woman

Irish-made comedy drama depicts the modern woman
Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat in Animals

Irish-made comedy drama Animals will draw obvious comparisons to shows such as Fleabag, writes Esther McCarthy When Tyler finds flatmate and fellow party animal Laura tied to her bedposts following another hedonistic night out, she has one simple question. “Girls are tied to beds for two reasons — sex and exorcisms. Which was it with you?”

That’s one of the opening scenes in Irish-made comedy/drama Animals, the story of two twentysomethings growing older disgracefully, via the haze of alcohol and drugs and sex with strangers in nightclubs.

Adapted from Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel and shot largely by night on the streets and in the bars of Dublin, Animals is a movie about female friendship and owning your sexuality.

Just like recent TV series such as Fleabag and Girls, it sets out to look at women’s lives onscreen in an unconventional and realistic way.

For Australian director Sophie Hyde, shooting the movie in Ireland at a time when the country was preparing to repeal the abortion laws gave the story an extra edge.

“When we were here shooting, Repeal the Eighth was happening. There definitely was a really present sense in the women around me, that were here, of questioning what’s been expected of them and their bodies,” said Hyde.

“That’s the thing across the world. I think, but it felt very rich and strong in Ireland. In Australia we’re nowhere near as vocal about that in some respects.

So to me the characters fit really comfortably in here, and that rejection of convention that they have. There’s a political feeling that’s really interesting here that isn’t necessarily as out loud in some other places.

Animals focuses on the bond between Tyler (Alia Shawkat) and Laura (Holliday Grainer) as they sup, snort and sleep their way around the Irish capital.

Even men don’t keep them apart - in one early scene when Tyler meets a guy in a bar, she winks at her friend and says: “Give me eight minutes”.

But it’s pretty evident early on that there is a co-dependency to their friendship and when Laura, who has ambitions to be a novelist, falls for a man and dreams of a different life, their friendship is tested.

“In a lot of ways it’s that traditional female story which is that the personal is the political,” observed Hyde. “We don’t have to be overtly political in the story because their lives are political. Just by being women who reject expectations, just by being women who decide they want a life outside of marriage, they are already political. Laura is inside a bubble of partying and desire.

I think we were lucky because we had the writer doing the screenplay. There was a real freedom to be able to do whatever we needed to do to try and maintain the essential ideas of the book but not have to retell it in exactly the same way which was good, very refreshing.

“I wanted more young women in the story and more versions of women to explore. I’m very interested in the idea of competing desires, so many things that we might want all at the same time.”

The original novel was set in Manchester and the film is an Irish co-production with Australia and the UK. When producers couldn’t raise finance out of the UK, they decided to look at other cities, including Dublin. While the leads are English and American, the movie’s supporting cast, including Pat Shortt, Olwen Fouere and Amy Molloy, are Irish.

“We really investigated what it could be,” said Hyde. I just felt there was such an opportunity, the kind of characters that we had in the story fit so well into Dublin. And then Dublin shifted the story and the style of it quite a lot.

“There was something about the stories of the girls in the film that felt like they could be in many cities around the world. But I must admit that when we chose to move it to Ireland it was an exciting, expansive kind of move where I’m trying to tap into who those women were in this city and what sort of city we wanted to put on the screen.

“How Ireland changed the film was really interesting — visually it changed it a lot. Certain scenes were transformed and the literary aspect of it came to the surface which was already there in the novel. The drinking culture is more specifically Irish than it would have been, these things that become very specific to the place. Is it an Irish film? It certainly has a lot of Irish influence.”

Like US hit Bridesmaids,Animals places focus on the sometimes obsessive nature of female friendship — Tyler feels threatened by her friend’s new relationship and writing ambitions.

“They’re very complicated friendships, women’s friendships, and they’re not really looked at,” agreed Hyde.

We have a very strong sense of the experience of being a middle aged man, because we’ve all read literature and seen movies about that for our whole lives. But we don’t get to explore female friendship very much in our stories.

“And there are a few notable exceptions like Bridesmaids. But there are not many when you really look around.

“And yet female friendship in your life is so big. It’s like your relationship with your mother — beautiful, wonderful, dark. obsessive, co-dependent, all of those things. I think we’re fixated in our world on the narrative of romance. So it was really wonderful to look at a story about somebody that was super important, a relationship that was very meaningful in somebody’s life without it needing to go forever or without feeling like it’s a failure because it ends. And I think we all have those friendships.”

Hyde came to the fore as a filmmaker with the movie 52 Tuesdays and the TV series Fucking Adelaide, but Animals is giving her momentum internationally and has been well reviewed on the festival circuit.

She recently completed a series called The Hunting, which looks at the issue of teenagers sharing explicit photos of each other online, which will screen soon on UK TV.

She has fond memories of filming in Ireland — despite the best efforts of the Beast From the East scuppering production.

“It was freezing, the Beast From the East came in and shut the city down in the last few days of preproduction so we missed a whole lot of stuff. Everyone shut down but the cast and I did quite a lot of rehearsals and they were absolute troopers. They would trek through the snow to get to me, or I would go to them because no one would drive anywhere. We all maintained something through that time.

"It was an extraordinary pleasure. You get to really fall in love with a city when you’re looking at it through your own filmmakingeyes.”

- Animals opens in cinemas on Friday

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