Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
I’ve had a hard time putting my head around “The Favourite”. Not because of its complexity nor its message. It is neither complex nor particularly deep. It was certainly entertaining. The dialogue, a hail of brilliantly written insults, practically spits feelings of anger and resentment in a humorous manner. And the performances of the three women around which the story rotates are simply fantastic. Yet, something was missing. So I’ve taken the two weeks since I screened the film to try and work it out.
And I believe it’s as simple as this: the film lacks a beating heart. “But, Jason”, you say, “it’s SUPPOSED to be wicked…like ‘Love and Friendship'”! I suppose. But Whit Stillman’s ‘Love and Friendship’ had a giant heart. The characters were human and relatable, even at their worst. In “the Favourite”, other than the occasional pang of pity for Queen Anne’s situation (read her Wikipedia page – you’ll want to give her a hug), director Yorgos Lanthimos has failed to give us even a modicum of concern for the hate triangle at the center of the film’s energetic vortex. Just when you think you’re supposed to root for one over the other, they turn out to be quite awful, and vice versa. And unlike Jane Austen stories, there is no silly and faultless fop nor glass-filled-to-the-brim-with-romantic-optimism ingenue to lessen the blows for us. As a result, upon the film’s completion, I felt incredibly unsatisfied. Honored to be in the company of three actors in full possession of all their tools, yes, but, to what end?
And yet, those three actors make it a worthwhile venture. Olivia Colman is <sigh> so great. Her Queen Anne carries all the weight of a life lived in physical and emotional torment. She is repulsive, slightly ajar mentally, and utterly besotted by the boredom of her Royal isolation. Sometimes all within a sentence. It makes me all the more impatient for her two upcoming seasons as QEII in “the Crown”! Rachel Weisz, who, as Lady Sarah, is the picture of confidence in her ability to walk a fine line betwixt disdain, power, rejection, and the raw bitterness of institutionalized sexism, is likewise superb. But, and I don’t know if the script allows for it, I’d have loved a touch more humanity or a smidge more insecurity…just the smallest amount necessary to make her seem more like an actual person in this story, instead of playing the immovable object to the unstoppable force that is Emma Stone’s Abigail. Stone is quite good and I think she hangs surprisingly well with her titan’s of acting colleagues. But, like Weisz’ character, Abigail is asked to be in fight mode throughout – always thinking of the long game in this battle of wits and whispers. While that can be delicious in the telling, by film’s end, it’s pretty exhausting.
There are other reasons to see this film and they are wrapped up in the phenomenal imagery that grace the end of Lanthimos’ lens. The sets, the decor, the costumes, the wigs, the feeling of largesse within the castle walls…all of it is simply spectacular! Where to begin? Well, let’s start with a cinematographer working on only his second feature (the first being the unremarkable “Meyerowitz Stories”), Robbie Ryan. The color palette and lighting have both the appropriate haze of Castle dust and must, and a necessary preponderance of flickering shadow to highlight the loneliness and tedium in Anne’s world. Yet, when opulence is called for, it is blindingly present. Fiona Crombie (Production Designer), Lynne Huitson (Art Director) and Alice Felton (Set Decoration) give the players a world of such precision and opulence, that a quarter of their work has been done for them. And add another quarter to the brilliant costumes of three-time Oscar-winning costume designer, Sandy Powell, who will, undoubtedly pick up her fourth as a result of this production.
And lest I forget! There is a stroke of mad craziness in one Royal court dance showcase meant to recall a much more modern medium. I won’t give it away, but suffice to say, if you aren’t at least thirty-five or older, you may not get the reference. I did a spit take when I recognized it. Perhaps if Lanthimos had added just a touch more connective tissue and emotion, I would be much more bullish on the entire enterprise.
Regardless. Go see Colman do her thing. Seriously. She’s worth it.
Written on 12/19/2018