You are either a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed among other movies The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, or you are not. His latest film, The Favourite, is actually quite a bit more accessible than those previous works, in that it is a less violently graphic piece. But that does not mean that Greek director Lanthimos loses his touch for the diabolically whimsical. To the contrary, he has reinterpreted the cunning woman of All About Eve with his own aggressive, persistent, and superbly creative style.
The movie focuses on the Court of Queen Anne (played by the stupendous Olivia Colman) in the early 18th Century, when England is embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession against France. The Queen is severely incapacitated at times by gout‚ÄĒseemingly mad at times. By her side is the devious Duchess of Marlborough, played with manipulative gusto by the exact Rachel Weisz. As the film opens, however, trouble appears in a carriage‚ÄĒthough it does not seem thus at first‚ÄĒin the form of the Duchess‚Äôs long-lost cousin Abigail, played by Emma Stone.
What begins thereafter is an endlessly amusing, perverse game cat and mouse between the two rivals, though to the Duchess‚Äôs chagrin she does not at first recognize the threat. Backstabbing, betrayal, conniving, and contriving all entangle themselves into a plot twisted by twisted women. There are men around, sure. Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) plays Robert Harley the leader of the Tory party, and the opposing Prime Minister is also there, urging the Duchess to in turn urge the Queen to continue the war against France. Harley, in turn, sees in Abigail the opportunity to gain his own access to the royal ear, but as Stone so deadpan and coolly explains to him‚ÄĒshe is on her side and her side only, and it is a happy coincidence for Harley if that happens to align with his. The burgeoning Joe Alwyn (also in Boy Erased) is Abigail‚Äôs would-be love interest but, again, she seems to have little to no interest in anything other than becoming The Favourite.
It is not worth setting up the plot beyond that‚ÄĒafter all, the schemes the women concoct are more about how they are executed than anything else, and that you will have to watch for yourself. What I can tell you is that Lanthimos adorns the naughty exercise with lavish costumes, a regal and then suspenseful soundtrack, and expansive, at times spherical cinematography by the experienced Robbie Ryan.
But despite these worthy technical elements, it is for two simple reasons that you should go see The Favourite. The obvious one is the acting by the three leads. Stone becomes a villain for the first time in her career and embodies the doting, purportedly caring, secretly dangerous Abigail with terrifying force. Weisz has played the role of the overbearing woman before, but she repeats those turns with aplomb and hilarious effectiveness particularly towards the latter half. Colman is brilliant‚ÄĒher role is the most physical, and she gives it her entire self, gout, floor, and silly sex scenes and all.
The second, perhaps most important, is Lanthimos always refreshing script. (Warning, some explicit language follows.) It works particularly well in this movie, where you see stuffy royals speaking so politely and then uttering gems such as ‚ÄúI was sold to a balloon shaped German with a thin cock‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúI will throw you to the streets where you will end up with Scarborough whores wondering who is fingering your ass.‚ÄĚ And there are others. He weaves these moments of absurd and graphic levity into the sordid, sinister ordeal with stunning perfection‚ÄĒalways catching you off guard.
What of other elements that we always see in Lanthimos films? Well, the animals show up and they do so with a vengeance. And I will forgive you for wondering and cringing as to whether it will be the geese, the rabbits, or the pheasants that are squished, beheaded, or mutilated. More amusing, however, is the not-subtle fact that Lanthimos views the royals and their court as a bunch of sniffling rabbits, roving around aimlessly at the feet of their decaying Queen.
The Favourite perhaps over-extends its own welcome and, like all of Lanthimos films, is never entirely sure how to stick its landing. But if your mind is open to raunchy, supremely creative entertainment, I can guarantee you some for 115 of the 120 minutes.
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