FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES (2019)

 

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

That’s right, favourite with a U.

 

Yorgos Lanthimos is certainly an acquired taste. The Greek filmmaker has shown his flair for the absurd since emerging with 2015’s The Lobster and 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, both receiving critical acclaim whilst revelling in their indie-arthouse trappings. With his latest offering, The Favourite, there’s the feeling that this is Lanthimos’ first real mainstream attempt – from the calibre of the cast to the marketing. For fans of his work, however, fear not – his stylistic and quirky approach still smothers every scene and word.

In the early-1700s, during the final months of the court of Queen Anne (Colman), the movie tells a (deliberately) historically inaccurate story of the rivalry between the haughty Lady Sarah (Weisz) and her modest cousin Abigail (Stone) for the affections and the ear of their flagging Queen, all set against the backdrop of (a flailing yet successful) war with France. I say deliberately inaccurate as the basic idea of the story is somewhat true (as far as historians believe) – two young women fighting to be the Queen’s number one in every way – however, everything else is concocted for the screen, which is fine as nearly every period movie conjures something fictional up. The problem is, what is conjured up here is just that, simply for show without really delivering anything substantial. Naked, wigged men being pelted with vegetables, duck races, macabre dance routines – all filler to what is essentially a cat fight. Rhubarb. A row. A game of one-upmanship that’s less transgressive than it may believe itself to be.

 

Without the performances of the three lead actresses, The Favourite would probably crash, burn, disintegrate and then the ashes would further dissolve. As it is, Colman, Stone and Weisz save the movie. Before the halfway point, I wouldn’t have said that as everything was just too faux-bonkers to really care about. However, halfway through, the performances ramped up and became exceptional – Colman especially, all brash, loud, naïve, vulnerable and lonely. Weisz is acerbic and scheming whereas Stone is effervescent and...scheming. The main issue, though, is that none of them are particularly likable, so I found myself enjoying their performances far more than caring about their characters. Nicholas Hoult looks to be having a blast hamming it up as the foppish leader of the opposition and can count himself part of the good performance gang too. The Favourite looks good, also – the wide-shots of the lavish manor house capture the time period (and isolation) well, and the costume design is ace. Technical aspects and costumes can’t make up for a narrative that is sorely lacking in any tension/magnetism, however, as the zaniness takes over at every turn. Characters throw out vulgarities - which becomes a bit juvenile – amongst the rutting and physical violence and everything just feels messy (especially the soundtrack and score). To top it off, it’s just not as funny or smart as it could have been, or as sharp as Lanthimos’ previous works. The stabs at class, greediness, corruption, et al are all welcome and register, however, they end up getting swallowed by the need for the weird and wild.

 

As a fan of The Lobster and Sacred Deer, I was really anticipating The Favourite and the trailers only helped. However, I just felt disappointed, occasionally thrilled but mostly bored during it. Wackiness and bizarre can’t mask an uninteresting story and those excellent performances salvaged The Favourite from being a trainwreck.

January 2nd 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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