The Favourite (2018)
Rated R for all of the R stuff. This movie is extremely sexually explicit. Yorgos Lanthimos, whose name I no longer need to IMDB to spell, often tells kind of creepy stories. I don't know why I wasn't expecting it this time. There's also some injury done by a horse and everyone is generally cruel to one another. But if there is one takeaway for seeing this movie, it is extremely sexual. R.
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
I wrote a real barn burner of a review for Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the only comment I got was about how ugly my postings look because I hit space twice after the period. So out of spite, there's a good chance that I might pepper this analysis with three or four spaces after the period. Boom. That's happening. I don't know why I was surprised by the sexuality in a Yorgos Lanthimos movie. I've now reviewed The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I was honestly just expecting weird as opposed to full on, over-the-top sexuality. But that made for an uncomfortable date night with my wife.
I knew nothing about Queen Anne before this moment. I suppose all that I could really say that I know about Queen Anne at this point is what little I gleaned from quickly perusing some articles about what was factual within the film. That doesn't give me much, but I can at least look at the film from a narrative perspective. If you tried to do a film festival with movies with characters that are terrible to each other for the entire length of the film just from the last five to ten years, it would last weeks. I don't know why I'm getting a little tired of it. The Favourite is a pretty looking movie with absolutely phenomenal performances by all of the cast, but I just felt like I was dragged by a horse for the length of the film. It is bleak. People are terrible. Maybe that kind of attitude gets attention, but there's nothing soft of happy about the film. Possibly the smartest thing that Lanthimos does in the film is misdirect about the characters we are dealing with. Emma Stone's Abigail is not the archetype we thought we were dealing with. She's a completely different archetype and that makes for a little bit of fun when it comes to watching the movie as a whole. But I can't help but jump back to Dangerous Liasons or Cruel Intentions when watching this movie. This movie addresses sex as power. In the case of The Favourite, it is very literal. Sex actually grants women power with Queen Anne. As a theme, it is powerful if I haven't seen it a dozen times before. I know The Hollywood Reporter talks about how The Favourite takes on the #MeToo movement from a different perspective. I don't know. It seems like that is a convenient interpretation that only works because it addresses sex and power. If we wanted to address the #MeToo movement from the perspective of The Favourite, there would have to be some real blinders put on the entire debate. The women in this story are the ones in charge. Anne is the one holding all of the power. If I don't get to it later, Olivia Coleman is magnificent and completely deserves the Academy Award for her performance. But Anne doles out powers between Lady Sarah and Abigail based on favors that they perform for her. But she is almost ignorant of her power. I'm looking at the major players in the #MeToo scandals and those people are master manipulators. They seem to be people who are exclusively sexual. Rather, Sarah and Abigail see a lonely woman whom they exploit for their own personal gain. The power dynamic seems to be a complete shift.
Lanthimos seems to have made something a little different from his typical faire. There's nothing surreal in this film. But he seems to be delving into the same emotions that he elicits out of his stranger films. This film could be considered non-fiction, but I'd sooner label it as historical fiction. The reason, besides the fact that I don't know what is real and what is piecemeal posturing, is that characters act outside of traditional reality. The Favourite, while being somewhat planted in history, exists in a world where characters speak their minds and act larger than life. Oh, trust me. it works. It makes the movie far more interesting than the typical narratives of those court intrigues and backstabbings. I suppose this voice makes the film something special. There's a scene. I'm sure those people who have seen the movie know the scene I'm about to talk about before I mention it. I'm talking about the dance number. Lanthimos has all these elements of historical reality and then completely subverts those elements with moments that remind you that this is a movie and that everything is a little bit absurd. I can only theorize what it actually means, but I am going to try my best to interpret. As intense as this movie gets, and it does get extremely intense, there are reminders about the absurdity and foolishness of everything that we are seeing. Lady Sarah holds onto power with the queen and demands that she is the only one who can make her feel valuable. I have a feeling that Sarah loves Anne in a very demented way. But Sarah has created a conflict of her own making. Everything that is making her miserable is because she chooses to be removed and cruel for a good portion of the movie. When she takes Abigail under her wing, her kindness is punished. But the story can be simplified in the sense that this is all about a relationship that has fundamentally broken. All of the physical pain and arrests are about a bad breakup. (I suppose that this could tie into #MeToo, but I've already addressed that.) Abigail has power and then continues to prod it and poke it until it hurts her back. Abigail's fears and mistakes come from the absurdity that people constantly want more and risk exposure at every turn. If I summarized this film , I could say that two women want to woo the queen so they can rise higher in society, causing tension with one another. That's a really simple plot. Like I said, it's absurd. But it never really feels all that cheap or simple. It actually feels, throughout the film, like this very deep and rich story. I think that's why it is necessary to have Lanthimos direction in this situation. His absurdity forces us to occasionally not take the film too seriously. There are painful moments throughout the film, but we aren't allowed to be completely beaten down by these moments. We have to realize that we are watching a film. For all the lovely tapestries and costume pieces, there are moments that remind us that we are back in the theater. It's Bertolt Brecht all over again.
From a technical perspective, the movie is perfect. I never loved it. But there's no misstep that this movie makes. From a cinematography perspective, it is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, this is a pretty looking movie. I don't normally go for period pieces like this, but I couldn't help but marvel at the detail. When picking the image above, I didn't want an image of a closeup of someone's face. Most of the stills of this movie are absolutely gorgeous. But I love the complexity of the past shown here. Everything is intricate and everything is a museum piece. Yet, this is the gilded cage for Anne. Instead of pulling the scope outwards, which the movie teases every so often, it focuses on the minute. Go smaller, not bigger. This extends to the costumes and the set designs. Honestly, pause the movie if you get it on home video. A lot of the movie could be an amazing still. It's positively gorgeous. I'm reminded of Kubrick's work with Barry Lyndon (which I have yet to watch and I'm ashamed). The use of candle light and natural light makes a difference. I don't think that Lanthimos took it to Kubrickian levels, but the effect nonetheless is dazzling. I've already preached about the wonders that is Olivia Coleman, but I really want to get nitty gritty about the whole thing. I've loved Coleman in a lot of things she is in. I'm really glad that she is breaking out of those character roles that I typically see her in. I'm thinking of stuff like her role in Hot Fuzz. But since watching her on Broadchurch, I have rooted for her. She brings such levels to Anne. Anne is human. She is sovereign. She is mad. She is lonely. She is a mother. Golly, her work adding the mother elements to the character is painful to watch at times, especially how Abigail treats her children. I'm kind of shocked that she's up for Best Actress because I don't know if the narrative is actually Anne's. I'm tending to think that the story is Abigail's, but this is nitpicking. But then, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are perfect in pairing with Coleman. I have loved Rachel Weisz since The Fountain. Emma Stone is also pretty perfect. But this movie seems to really push every character to a level that I haven't seen them do in a while. This movie looked like it was a challenge to perform for a lot of the movie. It's very impressive watching what these actresses get out of each scene. It is very, very technically brilliant performances. Stone's Abigail has so many levels. It's weird to say that Weisz's performance, which is stellar, is the weakest simply because I don't think that it has the same levels as the other characters'.
I love writing during Oscar season. I was so bummed not to be able to strike while the iron was hot with the other films. I had this list of movies, unfortunately often less than stellar, that I had to review while they were fresh. But the reviews following will be all related to the Academy Awards. I love Oscar season. I know a lot of people just don't care, but it gives me an excuse to catch up on movies that will at least have some value. I hope to keep up with the list as best as I can. In a perfect world, I'll knock out all of them. But there are a few that just won't be available to me, regardless of my efforts. Still, The Favourite is a good start to a long list of very impressive films.
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Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.