Rating: 3 out of 5
Yorgos Lanthimos is perhaps the most discussed and prevalent auteur of the generation, a title that bares both a blessing and a curse. His style is individual, unique and recognizable, he loves wide angles with a mid level fish eye lens to expand the space, his characters have the wit and pace of comedians, he loves making dick jokes. Ten years ago he would have been cool, twenty he would have been edgy, thirty he might have been ludicrous, forty he would’ve been downright blasphemous but in 2018 he’s just pretentious. To review a film based on the person who conceived the idea and execution is unfair but I’ve never seen a movie-maker who gets in his own way more than Yorgos, his latest,The Favourite, is no exception.
For the first hour of this film, much like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster, Dogtooth and Alps, it’s brilliant. Smart, thoughtful and aware of the world being conceived. Then…like all these works, he loses his way in his own high concepts. If these movies have one reoccurring issue it’s their own self-obsession. On paper they make for fascinating and distinct ideas but something seems to get lost in their translation to screen. A great idea does not make a great film, it makes a great pitch for producers. Writing this review in my head for the first hour was a drastically different experience than the second, I was an hour away from calling this “his most lucid film”, “most self-conscious”, “honest” and even “fun” but as the third act drew to a close, I became more interested in scraping the remnants of my bowl of queso than how he was going to conclude this story.
This movie is a damned mess, to no fault of the lead actresses, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are having the time of their lives. Their disturbed chemistry provides an exhilarating game of cat and mouse, affected more by the things they say than what they do. The real star of the show, however, is Olivia Coleman playing Queen Anne in 18th century England, and while the performance may not be 100% historically accurate (there is not even a slight mention of religion which dominated English politics until the 20th century), she absolutely stole the screen. Her motivations were ambiguous but she was never, not the queen, carrying a frightening, omnipresent power. Watching Weisz and Stone dance so gracefully with their words is a delight, both actresses bring a passion and verve to their respective roles, gnawing on every one liner, they understand the vision Lanthimos is attempting to create. But does he?
No. In the process of satirizing London high society in the 1800’s Lanthimos too has fallen victim to that cultures excess and disconnection. There is a moment in this film where a naked man jumps gleefully as aristocratic politicians hurl grapefruits at him. This movie drew many laughs from the audience but during this moment, this very Lanthimos scene, the theater was dead silent. This scene is also when the movie begins to break down, slowly losing track of where it was heading. The tug of war for power between Stone and Weisz was the most fun this film ever let itself have but that premise is curiously abandoned. The story had escalated to an almost natural ending but then soldiers on for another forty five minutes. After that point some people were able to enjoy the third act, as I heard many gasps, cries, shrieks even chuckles but Yorgos could not regain that collective enthusiasm so felt at the start of this film, the setup was better than the payoff.
The last moments of a film can make or break the entire experience and there was a brief, shining moment during the third to last shot that almost made me believe that Yorgos understood his story, then a goofy, needless superimposition slowly fades onto the screen and the film dissolves into black along with any point that he had hoped to make. When this film works, it really works, some of the cinematograph is phenomenal as Lanthimos has always favored vast wide angles and tracking shots to montage, his stylization here works much better than it did in his previous effort The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Many of that movies scenes felt over-filmed, trying way too hard to earn that coveted term “cinematic”, but in this case the style suites the film surprisingly well, the big empty corridors of the palace feel a little emptier thanks to the direction, the queen is surrounded by people but she is alone. There is a great work in this man yet, I am sure of it, but he must mature, learn to reel himself in, know one he’s being just a bit too much. Nothing’s stopping him, except for himself.