Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Monday, February 4, 2019

OSCARS 2019: The Favouirte (2018)

Yorgos Lanthimos doesn't seem like the kind of director who makes Oscar-nominated films. The Greek director specializes in the absurd, often using highly stylized dialogue and very specifically arranged visuals to create a chilly, unnerving atmosphere. Yet the Academy does seem to like his movies quite a bit. “Dogtooth” was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010. “The Lobster,” an aggressively weird comedy, got a Best Original Screenplay nod in 2016. His latest, “The Favourite,” is now tied with “Roma” for most nominations in 2019. (Weirdly, the Academy pasted over “The Killing of the Sacred Deer,” which I think is his best film.) I guess even Lanthimos' very particular brand of cold satire is irresistible when clothed in fancy costume drama decorations.

Loosely based in fact, “The Favourite” is set in 1708 in the British court. England is at war with France. The sickly Queen Anne, however, isn't much worried about that. As she preoccupies herself with pets and fancy dances, her aide and adviser (and occasional sapphic lover) Sarah actually does much of the ruler. Sarah insists the war continues. This is much to the chagrin of Parliament members like Robert Harley, who dislike the increase in taxes. Meanwhile, a poor woman with royal blood named Abigail comes to court to work as a maid. After applying some herbs to the queen's gout ridden feet, Anne starts to like her. Tired of living an improvised life, Abigail goes about pushing Sarah out and taking her place as the Queen's favorite. An intense rivalry soon forms between the two women.

Maybe it's just because the New Age of Trumpian Dumbness we live in now has filtered down into every facet of our lives but a theme seems to be emerging across the Best Picture nominees. As in “Vice,” “The Favourite” is another film about people doing absolutely anything to achieve as much power as possible. Sarah ruthlessly manipulates the Queen, negging her when she needs to shake the Queen's confidence, making her jealous and having sex with her at alternating times. Abigail takes this same technique to even more vicious heights, poisoning Sarah, treating the Queen with kindness. Her primary goal, riches and comfort, soon becomes apparent. This ultimately leads to an oddly tragic ending, everyone left miserable by their machinations.

Yet “The Favourite” is also a comedy of sorts. Lanthimos primarily uses one technique to get his very particular brand of laughs. That is contrasting the opulence of the royal setting with the people's ribald, childish, or bizarre behavior. There's a lot of filthy, sweaty sex in “The Favourite,” including what has to be one of the best dispassionate, uninterested hand jobs committed to film. C-bombs are dropped liberally and it's clear hormones rule even in this setting. Naturally, there's a lot of decadence at this level of royalty. The bored, idyll rich occupy themselves by racing ducks, collecting rabbits, and pelting naked dudes with oranges. “The Favourite” makes sure to paint the Queen as a childish figure, totally ignorant of royal issues, prone to temper tantrums. A head of state being an infantile brat also can't help but be hyper-relevant in our modern world. 

Lanthimos' distinct directorial style is definitely on display in “The Favourite.” Individual shots from the film looks like baroque period paintings. People are positioned within large tableaus of crowded, detailed-filled royal bedrooms. Fish-eyed lens are used throughout, swirling around the cast and drawing the audience's eye towards the center of the screen. Once again, this gives the impression of oil paintings of isolated scenes. Yet “The Favourite” is far from a stationary looking film. In fact, Lanthimos repeatedly puts the viewer right in the action. Fast-paced tracking shots are used as characters walk through the halls or across the courtyard. It's the touch that's just right for this kind of film, detailed and imposing but not so separated as to alienated the audience.

A big difference between this and Lanthimos' other recent films is that he didn't write it. This is most apparent in “The Favourite's” approach to its dialogue and characters. That otherworldly, chilly style of conversation we saw in “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” isn't here. Instead, “The Favourite” is quite warm in its own way. The performances are studied and immaculate but actually seem like real human beings. Olivia Colman is a raw nerve as the Queen, a pathetic figure that is being pulled apart by the people around her and the childish feelings inside her. Rachel Weisz is a cobra-like woman, hiding her devious plans behind a deceptive smirk. That steely appearance rarely shakes even through the series of humiliations Sarah suffers later in the film. Emma Stone's big eyes and naturally likablity is also well utilized as Abigail, who is just as devious – and reveals as much – but has a more betraying outer appearance. Honestly, all three are great and I'd be happy if any of them win an Oscar.

As good as “The Favourite” is, it's still the kind of movie you have to sit and think about for a while after seeing. Most of Lanthimos' films have that affect on me. Ultimately though, even a movie this offbeat at times is still easily his most accessible work. Oddly funny as a satire about how the people in power rarely care about their actual duties, but more humanistic than that sounds due to the trio of powerful performances at the center, it's a film I think people will be writing about for many years to come. [8/10]

No comments: