'The Favourite' (2018) Movie Review
Why Doesn’t Thy Life Make Any Sense?
Going into The Favourite, I really didn’t have much clue as to what this film was going to be about or even the genre it was to be set in. Quite honestly, I kept mixing up the advertisements for this and Mary Queen of Scots together in my head quite often; so I went in fairly blind as to what I was to be expecting, but I wasn’t exactly expecting much. After seeing the movie, this is probably the first time I’ve been pissed off that a movie was great because it ruined my Best of the Year list for 2018 that I was writing. It especially perplexes me seeing how it is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos; in case one is unaware of this man, he is the director of the highly acclaimed The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Two films in which I did not care for, especially Sacred Deer where I found the film to be overwhelmingly pretentious. Prior to The Favourite, Lanthimos has shown his style to seemingly be not geared towards my tastes and I thought of him to be overly obsessed with portraying a dry and strange tone rather than an interesting story. Style over substance to say the least. This film, however, is extremely geared towards me and is completely my cup of tea. I am glad to have finally enjoyed something released by Yorgos Lanthimos and it is a movie that I utterly adore, this is when the dry sense of humor and particular style work for the film rather than against it.
Long Live the Queen
In the early 18th century there is a war raging on between England and France, however within the kingdom there lies wild debauchery and scandalous plots around every corner. In this time, Queen Anne has fallen ill and has entitled her close friend Sarah to attend to the governing of the country in the meantime. However when a cousin of Sarah, Abigail, arrives to become a servant to the Queen she grows rather close with Sarah which also leads to becoming quite close with Queen Anne as well. This stirs up a bit of a rivalry between the three as we question what are the motives of everyone involved and who will come out on top. This is all I care to share about the plot because half the fun was seeing how the story plays out and with how a certain character is revealed to be more devious than they originally let on.
I had a ball with this movie, one of the major reasons as to why being because of the dialog between all of the characters is hypnotically sharp and witty. Conversations and disputes will go on with these ruthlessly hilarious bouts of insults that would cause me to laugh on several occasions. I would be thoroughly wrapped up in this humorous banter between two characters and then out of left field would come out the perfect line to make me laugh out loud; not just a chuckle or snicker, I mean a full on raving mad laugh. I don’t wish to ruin any of the deliciously fantastic lines that I am speaking of, but I will say that there is a scene between Sarah and Queen Anne bickering about the subject of getting rid of Abigail and the Queen’s final words to Sarah in that moment was possibly the greatest insult I’ve ever heard; although Abigail’s comment pertaining to a man claiming to be a gentleman and insinuating rape was also a close second. The verbal punches between everyone is so quick and funny that I couldn’t help but laugh and grin for most of my sit. I couldn’t get enough of it, when someone threw jab in their discussion it was always with this perfectly calm and elegant Victorian era speak which made it all the more humorous. This could have easily become tedious or annoying if it were only played as schtick for the dialog’s style, something that I have felt to be one of this director’s downfalls in previous works with having his actors speak in an extremely monotone way with absurd dialog in order to create comedy, however in here it feels natural and hits the target every time. In the context of this world, everyone feels authentic in their characters to spout these lines out, not simply a writer or director trying to steal the spotlight from the story or characters. The dialog, as well as the vocal tone, serve a purpose within the narrative and for these characters while still being clever with terrifically funny line delivery from all its actors.
Not only is the dialog entertaining, but the story itself was quite fascinating. To go into this without spoiling anything will be pretty difficult, so I do apologize in advance for how vague my review may end up being or if I slip with details. But I will say that this was absolutely genius casting to put Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in their respective roles of Abigail and Sarah because we as movie-goers have a certain view on these two women with some of the roles that they are known to play. Emma Stone usually being the ‘girl next door’ type gal, relatable and charming with a heart of gold while Rachel Weisz normally has a bit of an edge to not always be the most trusting. Because of this, with how these two are introduced, we are led to having an opinion on them to either build trust for one or be cautious of another. Then as the story unfolds, we start to question Abigail while warming up to Sarah. Although as the story keeps going you wonder if anyone’s motives are truly pure at heart. I particularly appreciate that fact that while it is obviously apparent that Sarah and Abigail are in the middle of a squabble to win the friendship of the Queen, the Queen is also completely aware of what’s going on rather than playing the ignorant fool. Most of the time a movie will have the middle piece (in this case, the Queen) be entirely oblivious to the jealous acts of the other two, but in this one Anne knows exactly how she is at the center of it all and she frankly enjoys the rivalry to win her over. The three all shine immensely so in their chemistry and their contention. Even Nicholas Hoult as a supporting character stole a lot of the scenes for me, and I mean that in the highest of compliments since he was probably my favorite character in the whole movie solely based on his performance. Portraying this ridiculously flamboyant Victorian age rich boy with showing little content for anyone that can’t benefit him in some way. He also says the word ‘c*nt’ in the most amazing way I have ever heard it spoken. Odd little tidbit, but it was one of the first big laughs I got from this film and it is all thanks to Hoult.
This World is Chaos
Even though there are talks of war and devious schemes to gain power from everyone involved, within the walls of the kingdom lies so much sex and preposterous activities that are beyond words. I predict that there were some major influences in tone by the movie Caligula because there is such sleaze and perversion around every nook and cranny, I mean that in the best way. This felt like it held nothing back and wanted nothing more than to show some fun mayhem on the screen to add to the unpredictable nature of this world we’ve been thrown into. One minute we will be filled with anticipation on the fate of Sarah and curious as to what Abigail’s true intent with the Queen is, the next I’ll be watching a bunch of 18th century English lords throwing tomatoes at a fat naked man dancing around a room. For no reason other than the spontaneity of what lurks next. I don’t know why it happened, but I’m glad it did. It made me laugh and wonder what will happen next. There’s a certain scene involving Abigail who is worried about if Sarah may do something to retaliate, as she calmly expresses her fear of Sarah, Abigail is performing a hand job on a man without so much as looking at him while she monologues to herself. This may come across as random and probably pointless to most, I actually found it to be an interesting insight into the inner workings of this character while also being somewhat funny in a dark way. Yes, to an extent it is random, but it serves a purpose showing that this is a woman that does what she needs to do to get what she wants, but doesn’t seem to hesitate or give it a second’s thought as her mind is constantly focused on her goal while even in the middle of performing a sexual act only to manipulate others. That and it added to how sleazy this world is, which appealed to me. I relished the sleaze factor in this since it added to the satire; getting a look into a world that abides by very little rules while being surrounded by so many that dictate their actions at all times.
I Love the Camera
Lanthimos, I’ve noticed has a fondness for trying to replicate a very Stanley Kubrick vibe in his cinematography. Camera movements mainly restricted except for the few occasions to create the greatest impact with a specific camera pan or zoom. Slow dolly shots and perfectly centered set pieces. Before now, I found it to be irritating in how the director attempted emulating Kubrick, but he couldn’t figure out how Kubrick was so successful with his style. The Favourite looks and feels as though he finally caught that lightning in a bottle with an inspiration sparked straight out of Barry Lyndon, yet still managing to feel completely its own work. I particularly loved the use of wide angle lenses in this movie, creating a strange warped perspective to help me feel that this isn’t quite in our reality while filling the frame with extraordinary beauty. The set designs and costumes were gorgeous eye candy that I ate right up as they were expertly shot. The final shot of the movie was definitely quite the treat as to it means and who was the true victor in all of this.
The Reason My ‘Best of’ List is Overfilling
I really did have such a good time with The Favourite; the hilarity of its dry sense of humor and biting dialog, the insanity of its extremely fun and sleaze filled world, the brilliant line delivery from every actor, the interesting character arcs and turns that the story takes, the stunning aesthetic of the Victorian era and the camera work in how it was all filmed. I loved it all and I never really thought that I would love any of Yorgos Lanthimos’s directorial work, but here I stand corrected and happily so. I do hope that he keeps going on this path and only improves as a filmmaker. I’m delighted to see this man find the right balance of story, character and style. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he knows how to keep this balance present in future endeavors. This will easily be on my ‘Best of 2018’ movie list, which also makes me mad since I was so close to capping that off… so close. I’ll figure it out though. Anyways, if this sounds like this could be up your alley then I strongly recommend that you check this one out as soon as you can!
© 2019 John Plocar