Monday, December 17, 2018

The Favourite - Review

Somehow this film is the most normal film in Yorgos Lanthimos career. “Normal” is even a stretch for this wonderfully twisted film. Its oddities are only highlighted when a more traditional royal period piece is releasing within weeks of this (Mary Queen of Scots, more on that later this week). But the combination of brilliant dialogue, tremendously talented actresses, and a touch of cynicism make this a big time Oscar contender as the year winds to a close.

In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne, and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots.

The trio of women at the forefront of The Favourite have received plenty of praise and its well deserved. Each performance is different from the last despite similar conniving natures to the characters themselves. The interactions between these three women is easily the best on screen chemistry demonstrated in film in 2018, making the film all the better for it. Individually, the women may just be at the top of their respective games.

Stone is deliciously devious as Abigail, relishing in her ability to manipulate her way to more power and to selfishly gain her status back, no matter what it takes. Abigail as a character recognizes the capabilities she possesses through the beauty others find in her. Weisz is different. Though Sarah covets the same power that Abigail does, her motivations are vastly more noble, fighting for the prosperity of her country and queen and doing whatever it takes to get there. 

Yet somehow, amongst a bevy of tremendous performances from Stone, Weisz, and other supporting players like Nicholas Hoult, whose excellent performance has been lost in fray, Colman stands out above all else. Colman’s daft and erratic royal Anne is the source of so much of the film’s twisted humor as she swallows scenes whole and winds up stealing the entire thing. 

The success of The Favourite could easily be attributed to the performances and the ability of the actresses to capture every ounce of the audience’s attention, but without the whip-smart script, none of it when connect the way it does. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara have crafted a devilishly clever and wonderfully weird takedown of the absurdity of royalty and politics of the period. There are no good people in The Favourite, simply pitiful individuals concerned with their own desires instead of those around them. 

The weirdness of The Favourite fits right in line with director Yorgos Lanthimos sensibilities, even if it winds up being his most digestible and tame film. While his past films have been largely cold and unfeeling, there is some room for warmth and beauty in The Favourite. Lanthimos frames the film with that beauty in mind, allowing the gorgeous details of the production design and costumes to shine through.

The Favourite is easily among the best film offerings that 2018 has to offer. Every inch of the production is immaculate, from the production design, the costumes, and the cinematography, to the direction, writing, and performances. The film will not be for everyone, none of Lanthimos work truly is, and there are things to nitpick as there is in any film, but few films can match the top to bottom quality of this odd, darkly comedic, period piece. 

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