If there is one thing made clear in the latest film from Yorgos Lanthimos, the delectable period piece known as The Favourite, it’s that President Trump is, most certainly, a Queen Anne. The movie covers the end of an early 1700’s conflict between England and France, focused on the court of the Queen, where power struggles and insecurities abound. From the get-go, by default of this being 2018 and our President being the outspoken mess he is, comparisons to Olivia Colman’s performance of this Queen are apt and understandable. Both characters are slobs, wallowing in their own loathings (of the self and of others), put-upon in constant states of “poor them”. They’re childish, petty, pitiful, easily triggered and potentially more easily manipulated.
At this, I would like to end any additional points on Trump in this review, as the film is about and deserves more.
In The Favourite – which I can’t help but see as a play on doing one a favor AND being ones favorite – Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play cousins on either end of the social spectrum, Stone having had a fall from grace, and Weisz being second in authority to the Queen. Stone’s Abigail shows up, muddied and humiliated, to work as a scullery maid, only to find opportunities to move onward and upward, some minor and some very major. Weisz’s Sarah is a loyal and brutally honest friend, who works well as a leader without being officially named to that role. The film, which could be seen as a farce on political inner personal dealings and wieldings, works too as a combative arc on gender and on class, where being female or of a certain preference plays little to no factor in one’s status, but rather how they act, observe, and behave do. In other words, beneath the veil of favoritism is a story where to truly rule, it’s your character that matters.
On occasion, a fish-eye like (or maybe that’s exactly what it is) lens is used to distort the given frame, adding a special flair to what was/is an excellent production design. Director Lanthimos has a way of adding disturbance to what is otherwise awkward or just odd by itself, be it in music or in the atmosphere. Throughout Favourite, we are privy to a game of strategy and exploitation between the two cousins, however, there’s a feeling of another player being involved, which adds suspense to this strange and humorous tale of strategy. It’s a lot like In the Loop from the G. W. Bush years (my only other mention of a Republican President, I swear), with a little Foxcatcher thrown in for good measure. There are differences, of course. 1) This is more confined/built than Loop, and 2) Foxcatcher was bolder and more daring. Does this mean Favourite must meet these or other films on their levels? Not at all. But I am stating that, for all of the pomp and circumstance, for all of the subtle visual eye-catching, for all of the grand theatrics of the acting, this feels like a more “accessible” Lanthimos.
Previous outings like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer when to extreme lengths to get under our skin and attempt to burrow further. They acted as pests or even parasites in a way but represented challenges to everyone watching. If there is one other thing I can say about The Favourite, it’s that it wasn’t challenging. Engaging, yes. Well crafted, very much. In fact, the script should rank as one of the best of the year. And, for another fact, the use of fades and dissolves made for some provocative images. It may have all been catty and with much personality, but it all felt too light and straightforward. For a story with such potential for contrast to today’s world, for a movie with such a set of eyes, with such a palette for dialogue, it just doesn’t pack the punch it suggests throughout.
Olivia Colman, if there is any justice in this world, ought to get an Academy Award for her tragically pathetic and miserably afraid turn. It’s blistering and bruising just what kind of power she thrusts around and how she does it, from the yelps and yells to the pained looks and rare smiles. Her Queen is mostly bedridden and seen too often as a puppet, but this is merely a rug that could be swiped out from under us at any time, revealing more than meets the eye or was expected. I think I get why Lanthimos held back on showcasing her as much as he did so that the moments she has would ring harder. Still, an entire movie of nothing but this Queen would be a charm. A bold charm. A daring charm.
More about personal politics than diplomacy or democracy, The Favourite is a comedy of chance, with error playing as equal a part as accuracy does. Big in dress, big in lines, big in visuals, but average in feels. No, this isn’t a “ho-hum” or “meh” kind of movie, just a welcome one. Above, I described the filmmaker’s other projects as being creepy and crawly to an extent. The Favourite will hopefully be seen by many and enjoyed by many, but it probably won’t go too deep within for most, made to be extraordinarily spicy but digestible.
Certain crowds will be more concerned with their hair sprayed comb-overs before watching the film than their thoughts on the story after. If you’re thinking I’m referencing a certain “individual one,” well…
RATING: 3.5 / 5
The Favourite will screen starting this weekend at The Broad.
Bill Arceneaux is the lead content writer for Big Easy Magazine. In addition to this, he has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Be sure to check out his film reviews and other articles here.