Monday 16 September 2019

Tanya Sweeney: Irish film Animals leads the pack as Hollywood reaches peak 'sis-mance'

Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat provide a realistic portrayal of female friendship in Animals
Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat provide a realistic portrayal of female friendship in Animals

Tanya Sweeney

Caitlin Moran has famously described Animals as "Withnail for girls", but it's perhaps getting more attention as one of the most authentic portrayals of female friendship in a long time. The darkly funny, Dublin-set drama, starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, shows female friendships in a brilliantly fresh light, and for what they often can be: conditional, co-dependent, fragile, intense, and very flawed.

Grainger and Shawkat play Laura and Tyler; the former is an Irish barista and would-be writer, essentially caught up in the riptide of Tyler's magnificent, infectious energy. The two have enjoyed close to a decade of boozing in Dublin's pubs and getting up to all sorts of twentysomething misadventures. Tyler is keen to keep the party going, and abhors all sorts of convention: monogamy, day jobs, responsibility. Yet Laura starts to see the attraction of a life more ordinary when she meets and moves in with Jim (played by Tyrone actor Fra Fee). Chaos naturally ensues, and the equilibrium of the girls' bond takes a beating.

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Also this week, the author of one of TV's best-known galpals has released a follow-up of sorts to her most famous creation. As one might expect from the creator of Carrie Bradshaw and her troupe of friends, Candace Bushnell's Is There Still Sex In The City? dives into the richness of female friendships in middle age. "I found myself in my mid-50s and living a life that I didn't expect," Bushnell has told the Hollywood Reporter. "At the beginning when I got divorced, I didn't know anybody else who was divorced, and my only single friends were like me: single and without children. So, we really made a bond that we were going to look after each other."

In 2016, Bushnell moved to Sag Harbor to specifically live among her friends: "If you don't have kids, you realise, 'Who is going to take care of me?'. Your girlfriends. It was a weird, great communal living where your best friends, who are like your family, are right across the street and you can run and see them any time and you're there for each other."

Yet even before this week, film TV and literature has been careening towards peak 'sis-mance' for quite some time. Where once upon a time, female friendships in culture fell into two camps: the undying, unshakeable bond, or the catty, backstabbing kind - now, the nuances of gal squads are finally being fleshed out.

Sex And The City aside, there have been notable cultural touchstones down the years - Laverne & Shirley, The Golden Girls, Designing Women and even Friends all easily passed the Bechdel Test (essentially any show where two women in a scene talk about something other than men).

But more recently, female characters have tackled tougher subjects and Big Little Lies in particular highlights what many have long known about girlfriends. It's an intimacy that's as unknowable, complex and confusing as any murder mystery.

Comedy Central's Broad City - a sort of Beckettian romp, but with two stoner girls in New York - has rightly been showered with praise for its warmth and charm. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who created, wrote and star in the series, have long credited the show's success to their own strong friendship. And even when the show made its way towards its finale earlier this year, Jacobson and Glazer doubled down on their premise. Men come and go, geography can pose an obstacle, but friendship never ends.

HBO's Girls provided a counterpoint of sorts to Broad City's celebratory, goofy idealism. Lena Dunham was one of the first millennial writers to accurately pinpoint the insecurity and ignominy - sexual, professional, psychological - of being a twentysomething. Yet there was something impressively nuanced in Hannah Horvath's female friendships. They bitched about each other in the guise of heated concern. They baulked at each other's personal advancements. They shared cupcakes in the bath, they ghosted each other.

On the big screen, meanwhile, 2011's Bridesmaids became the most successful rom-com of the 21st century, and Bride Wars, Bad Moms, Girl's Trip and Rough Night have hijacked the rom-com genre.

Animals looks set to pave the way for even more 'galentine's day' celebrations. Flawed and funny women navigating the choppy waters of the most complex, messy and life-affirming of friendships? What's not to like about that?

  • Animals is showing in Irish cinemas from August 9

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