Facing your friendships and sorting out your 30s: the makers of Animals on the milestones women create
By Emma Jones
If you ever enjoyed a decade of going out and overdoing it with your best friend – or if you’re currently in the middle of those years - Sophie Hyde’s Animals will be a bittersweet experience.
One of the most nuanced portraits of female friendship we’ve ever had in cinemas – previously, the bar was set by the brilliant but slapstick Bridesmaids – Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat star as Laura and Tyler, two friends who’ve partied their way through the last decade in Dublin, but Laura, played by Grainger, is, post 30, determined to settle down, get married and forge ahead with her writing career. Tyler is struggling with her past and her own looming 30th birthday milestone.
Animals was originally a novel set in Manchester written by Emma Jane Unsworth, who also adapted the screenplay. Australian director Sophie Hyde also made the excellent 52 Tuesdays, which explores many of the same themes of endings and beginnings.
“It’s a XYZ of what we want done by then, but for women there are biological pressures going on that recently I’ve started writing about. Around the age of 30 I felt a lot of pressure to have my life sorted out and I felt I didn’t.”
The pair have already developed a deep friendship themselves from the experience of making the film, and show me their arms.
We got matching tattoos after the Australian premiere in Adelaide,” says Sophie Hyde. “It’s the last line of the film -“I’m here” – in Irish.”
Although Laura and Tyler share a particularly intense friendship which not everyone will recognise as their experience , she believes that “everyone will see something they see of themselves in Laura and Tyler’s friendship.
“I’m sure everyone will relate to the partying bit of it, whether it’s something you’ve done or something you’re currently going through,” she says.
“People of all ages have responded to it in a quite surprising way,” adds Sophie. “So we wanted to play to the nostalgia aspect it provokes, and we thought people in their 20s, 30s and 40s would like it, but I had 70 year olds coming up to me in Adelaide saying they loved it and felt deeply connected to it. “
30 feels like a milestone, particularly for women, “almost like a deadline we want to give ourselves,” Emma Jane points out. “We just can’t help the milestones we want to give ourselves as humans, can we? It’s a XYZ of what we want done by then, but for women there are biological pressures going on that recently I’ve started writing about. Around the age of 30 I felt a lot of pressure to have my life sorted out and I felt I didn’t. Milestones don’t do anyone any good, certainly not around the age of 30 - they just make people panic.”
“I had to think of what was at the heart of the tale – this deep friendship that is sometimes romantic but not sexual.”
Holliday Grainger, best known for BBC1’s Strike, is completely compelling to watch as Laura, the woman who’s been trying to write something meaningful for a decade. The idea of an unsuccessful writer, one who regularly stares at a blank page, was a must for Emma Jane, who says “it really encapsulates the idea of 10 years whizzing by before you know it, and that can really hit you when you’re in your 30s.”
Laura’s 10 year writer’s block has not been Emma Jane’s experience however – given she’s a published novelist of two books – Animals and Hungry, the Stars and Everything, plus given the chance to adapt the screenplay. Originally from Bury, her journey to published author started with “really bad poetry when I was 14, and a terrible novel in my 20s which is now on floppy disk in landfill somewhere, but it gave me an idea of what the shape of my voice would be. I was then a journalist in Manchester and it’s been a road to get to the point where I can make a living as a writer. Adapting this for the screen was a really steep learning curve as well.”
Laura and Tyler’s often co-dependant friendship is “at the beating heart of the story,” its writers says. “That’s what we were keenest to keep intact in the adaptation of the novel. Certainly I had to take it apart and put it together again in a way that would work on film, so it would take a third of the time of the novel to tell. I had to think of what was at the heart of the tale – this deep friendship that is sometimes romantic but not sexual. The overall story arc was the same in both the book and the film – how friendships can be heartbreaking and terrifying and joyous, they can be like a marriage.”
Sophie reminds us that when we watch Animals, we’re seeing everything from Laura’s viewpoint. “We see everything through her eyes, including Tyler, so sometimes it’s going to be a very subjective portrait of Tyler, it’s her worst self, but remember we are seeing her through Laura’s viewpoint. Any friendship is both freeing and restricting when it’s that intense, you’re trying to live so hard and full all the time. It gets a bit tiring when they become safe and domesticated in that.
“It’s a celebration of a friendship, but a friendship that is ending, and shifting to something else. It’s important to enjoy what it was, and not think about it as a failure. My other film, 52 Tuesdays, also is an ending and a beginning, and I think it’s important to show that life really isn’t binary. There’s always a bittersweetness when things aren’t necessarily final.”
Animals is released in the UK on August 2, 2019