The year is 2018. We are still going to the movies to see fancy costume period piece movies about Queen Elizabeth or whatever and they aren’t getting better. I admit that these movies aren’t in my wheelhouse at all and I typically wouldn’t bother with them. It’s hard for me to care about a bunch of kings and queens from hundreds of years ago who wear powdered wigs and whine about each other all the time. Thankfully my man Yorgos Lanthimos decided to take a dip into this genre with “The Favourite”. Much like his dystopian romance “The Lobster” or last years psychological horror “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, Lanthimos takes a genre and completely destroys all the expectations and norms associated with it.
“The Favourite” is essentially a power struggle. Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) serves under Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), but she’s the one wielding all the power. That is until Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone), who has fallen out of grace and into a life of squalor, shows up inquiring about a job. From there the movie lashes back and forth as Sarah and Abigail fight for the Queens affections. Now that I’m thinking about it this movie reminds me a lot of last years “Phantom Thread”. They’re both about fancy English folks fighting for control and both feature some of the most witty and cruel dialogue in recent memory.
As a cinephile who treats every movie as if it were a football team aiming to get to the Superbowl, I tend to over analyze and try to figure out where the movie is in terms of Oscar season. “The Favourite” has a lot going for it and I’m sure that it will earn more than a few nominations this year. The most obvious and talked about category that this movie is in contention for is the acting. In this category, “The Favourite” is an anomaly. Coleman, Weisz and Stone are all on most people’s list for best actress (lead or supporting), but what’s perplexing is that there is no true lead in the movie… or maybe there are three? All three actresses put on stunning performances that deserve endless praise. Rachel Weisz is as cut throat and quick witted as ever, Olivia Coleman is hilarious and at one point utterly heart breaking as the bratty queen and Emma Stone turns in the best performance of her career. The amazing thing that this movie does is it gives each character a full arc and doesn’t diminish or depend on any one of them. All three characters are the most important character in the movie. With three performances like this it’s easy to forget some of the true supporting roles, but for me Nicholas Hoult is the MVP of this movie. He plays such a posh bastard. I really hope he continues along this path of being an eccentric character actor. He’s very good at it.
General audiences might not be able to stomach how bizarre this movie is, but compared to Lanthimos’ other projects, “The Favourite” is actually pretty accessible. It is still Lanthimos though, so you’re bound to get some weird shit. One of those things that Lanthimos does in this movie that works to great effect is the cinematography. There are shots where it seems like he’s trying to shoot a skateboarding video with an extreme fish eye lens. It’s disorienting and strange, just like every other aspect of this film. Not to dive into spoiler territory, but the final shot of this scene is absolutely stunning. Some may find it frustrating as it certainly leaves you screaming “that’s it?!” But for me it was more of an exclamation of satisfaction than a question.
Simply put, ”The Favourite” would be a bizarre and risky experiment in the hands of most directors, but with Yorgos Lanthimos it comes off as natural and confident, even as it rushes head first into a slow-motion duck race (yes really. I can’t stress how weird this one is). From the unnerving score, lavish costumes and raunchy script to the three lead actresses’ perfect performances there’s really no weak point with The Favourite.