Movie Review: The Favourite
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
by Jason Koenigsberg
I finally get the films of Yorgos Lanthimos. When I first saw The Lobster (2015) I was perplexed at how overly pretentious it was and confused by the critics praise it received. I felt the same way last year after seeing his sophomore effort The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and was under the impression that these other critics were duped and nobody seemed to find this film laughably bad. Sure his films are shot majestically and are reminiscent of the finest works of Stanley Kubrick. Plus the performances are very dramatic, but they are laced with inane dialogue that is probably difficult for talented actors to pull off with a straight face. But now I get it. Mr. Lanthimos is intentionally making over the top pretentious artsy films as a commentary about how ridiculous some of these modern independent films are. Do I know any of this for a fact? Not at all. I have never spoken to him nor have I ever read statements from him saying those are his intentions. But through that scope of hypocrisy and sarcasm is the only possible way I can enjoy his work and in doing so I certainly enjoyed The Favourite very much.
The opening shot is the Queen from behind, showing off her long white cape as it is being folded while also establishing the films gold and gaudy royal set design. These are some of the best costumes and sets of any film this year and are two of the biggest reasons The Favourite is a highly regarded awards contender. Academy members love these costume dramas but we have yet to see if the tone of the film falls into their typical Oscar bait tastes. The cinematography is beautiful and jarring at times, I would say beautifully jarring since there are many shots that are composed using a strange fish-eyed lens so it looks like we are watching the actors through a peephole, spying on things commoners should not see involving the Queen of England and the British government. There are outlandish slow-motion shots of glorious detail that illustrate the magnificence of the costumes, the settings and the ridiculousness of the behavior of the characters. The Favourite is not your grandmothers traditional period piece. It also has discordant sound effects that are just as unconventional as the images. The sounds of the film made myself and the audience jump a few times in their seats. I mentioned Kubrick and perhaps The Favourite is Lanthimos’ Barry Lyndon (1975) which was Kubrick’s costume drama with a peculiar sense of humor and both of these films use mostly all natural light. It is especially poignant for The Favourite in their dark inside scenes where the only illumination in a hallway may come from a single candle.
A lot of the early jokes in the film are ruined by the trailers but there are enough other ones to sustain the film and generate laughs. Most of the best jokes are too dirty and sexual for any movies ad campaign but there are plenty of darkly hilarious moments that will tickle your funny bone if you have a knack for offbeat humor. Queen Anne played by Olivia Coleman is a lot of fun. She seems to relish playing a mentally unstable monarch. I am not sure how historically accurate The Favourite is but her performance works perfectly for the tone of the film. Everything about The Favourite is so exaggeratedly melodramatic it’s funny, I do not see how other critics or audiences could take it seriously, yet the audience I saw it with was rather silent. I was often the only one laughing uproariously when something out of the ordinary occurred. The Favourite works in its own clever way with the similar unique style Lanthomis brought to his previous pictures.
One aspect of The Favourite that is different and he took from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) was the structure of the film. The movie is like a book with chapters each giving a hint of what the viewer will see next. It is a quirky, oddball, period piece comedy that will challenge audiences. This is a good example of a film to recommend to a coworker or relative that really annoys you. Then if they see it and like it, you’ll have something to talk about with them and maybe like them a little more. But if they hate it, you can smile and know that you helped frustrate them for two hours of their life.
Olvia Coleman is perfectly cast as the mad Queen Anne and Rachel Weisz is fine as her chambermaid and bluntly honest servant. I said this before about Emma Stone in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (2014) and I’ll say it again. She is an immensely talented actress but does not look like she belongs in any other era but the twenty-first century. As great as her acting chops are in The Favourite and her character does go through considerable changes throughout the film, I was never convinced that she was of the era in her part. She looks too modern to be in any other era but the present. Maybe that is just my personal prejudice but it took away from the film as a whole, which is a shame because she is actually really good engaging in a chess game and battle of wits in her competition against Rachel Weisz for the Queen’s affection. The film ends abruptly and will probably have viewers scratching their heads but I encourage you to sit there in the dark and watch the credits roll as you think about the final shot. It sticks with you and tells you what The Favourite is really about. Or don’t, but I had a rollicking fun time with this movie.