Sophie Hyde’s ‘Animals’ wins plaudits after world premiere in Sundance

‘Animals’ (Photo credit: Bernard Walsh)

The overseas sales prospects for Sophie Hyde’s Animals look bright following rave reviews for the female-led comedy at the Sundance Film Festival.

Adapted by Emma Jane Unsworth from her acclaimed 2014 novel of the same name, the film stars English actress Holliday Grainger (My Cousin Rachel, Cinderella) and American Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Transparent) as Laura and Tyler, best friends and roommates in Dublin.

When Tyler’s younger sister Jean (Amy Molloy) announces that she and her partner are expecting a baby, Laura is plunged into a funk that Tyler finds perplexing.

Their hedonistic existence is further disrupted when Laura gets engaged to Jim (Irishman Fra Free), an ambitious pianist who decides to go teetotal.

The Irish-Australian co-production was produced by Hyde and Rebecca Summerton for Closer Productions and Sarah Brocklehurst and Cormac Fox for Vico Films.

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland enthused: “Grainger and Shawkat are wonderful together, conveying the depth of a 10-year relationship with affection and honesty. Animals keenly understands something that few modern films are willing to face: friendships, the good ones, the real ones, aren’t some stopover on the way to movie-ready true love and riding off into the sunset. Sometimes, you’re riding off into the sunset with your best friend, and that’s damn fine.

“Elliptically plotted and not at all interested in setting either of its leading ladies on predictable paths, Animals eschews easy answers. Instead, it revels in the messiness of life, and the many love stories it can contain.”

Variety’s Guy Lodge hailed the comedy as a commercial leap forward for Hyde after her 2014 debut, the transgender drama 52 Tuesdays.

Lodge said the “generous, freewheeling film is a pleasingly disorderly addition to the still-underpopulated ranks of female friendship studies — eschewing both strict moral judgment and greeting-card sentimentality in its portrayal of two women with a firmer idea of what they don’t want in life than what they do.

“Along with its ideally matched stars, Animals knows that the best buddy movies are really romances, and no less prone to searing heartbreak.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin found Unsworth’s script insightful in its treatment of the complexity of female friendships and enjoyed watching a combination of inebriated sex and substance abuse.

Felperin described aspects of the plot as contrived but thinks it could have a good run as a niche item theatrically after a vigorous trot round the festival circuit.

Cornerstone Films is handling international sales and Bonsai Films will distribute in Australasia. Funding came from Screen Australia, the Irish Film Board , the Adelaide Film Festival and the South Australian Film Corporation.