Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat play best friends facing conflict in a Dublin-set original filled with remarkable insight and wit

There are just so many films to wade through at Sundance, from big-star vehicles to news-making documentaries, making it inevitable that smaller, less obviously worthy gems will fall through the cracks. There’s not been much noise around Animals, the second narrative feature from Australian director Sophie Hyde, and in a year when the festival has achieved record-breaking diversity in its lineup, there really should be. For Hyde has forged a wonderful, utterly lived-in film about two women at a crossroads, one that attendees should be breathlessly, excitedly discussing around town, urging everyone else to see immediately.

There’s a far more conventional film to be made from what could be an overly familiar log-line: two best friends face conflict when one reveals she’s getting married. But what’s so startling about Animals is its undying ability to upend expectations. It’s not exactly packed with twists, but dialogue remains spiky and unpredictable, scenes don’t play out in the ways in which we’re used to, and characterisation is free of judgment and cliche. It’s easy to underestimate the unstructured delicacy of the script, written by Emma Jane Unsworth based on her book of the same name. There’s rich detail and truth underpinning her gloriously untamed study of friendship, one that refuses to play by the rules.

Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have been best friends for 10 years and they share an intense co-dependency, living together and spending their nights drinking, snorting and fucking their way through Dublin. While Tyler appears content to be a barista, Laura craves more but struggles to focus on her dream to be a writer, too easily distracted by her vices. When she meets pianist Jim (Fra Fee), her friendship with Tyler is forced to mutate, with inspiration and romance pulling her away from their life together.

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