The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★★

Only one film is powerful enough to replace Paddington 2 as my personal favorite of the year. I really think y’all are gonna love this one. I sure did.
I know this isn’t really the place to post full length reviews, but I’m so obsessed with this film and am honestly pretty proud of this piece I wrote on it, so if you care to read here it is (originally posted at Starry Magazine):

Period pieces are often as much about what isn’t said or acted upon as they are about what is. Repressed desires brimming under the surface, denied due to the rigid societal expectations of the day. That however isn’t the case whatsoever with The Favourite, which just had its US premiere at Telluride Film Festival. Every impulse is named and realized here in the boldest, most outlandish way possible making it an absolute joy to devour.

Anyone who has ever dismissed period films as boring or stuffy will truly eat their words with this one. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has created a gorgeous, vibrant, witty and exceedingly naughty world here in Queen Anne’s kingdom. The Greek auteur’s dark, wickedly funny, twisted and audacious sensibilities are surprisingly extremely well suited to early 18th century English court. In fact, they may never have been more at home than they are here.

The film is part comedy, part history, part rivalry and part love (or at least sex) triangle, which revolves around Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), an increasingly unstable (physically and mentally) monarch, and the women competing to become her favourite. It’s obvious from the first time we meet Anne that she has no real interest in ruling or making any major political decisions. She’d rather play with her pet bunnies all day and allow her close friend the Duchess of Marlborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), who she enjoys playing with as well, to rule in her stead – a situation that perfectly suites the cunning and strong-willed Sarah. When her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), whose family has fallen on hard times, enters the Queen’s Household as a servant she sees an opportunity for advancement by getting close to the Queen. She uses her charms and sexuality to begin winning her over and pushing Sarah out. It’s then that the cousins verbally (and even physically at times) began a battle for Anne’s affections to riotous effect.

The Favourite truly achieves that rare trinity of filmmaking: a perfect script, director and cast. This is the first time Lanthimos (as a solo filmmaker) has worked with a screenplay that he didn’t have a hand in creating, but that’s no reason to be wary. Co-writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamar have crafted something so immensely entertaining and intriguing. All three women, especially lead characters Abigail and Sarah, are immensely fascinating and each of their relationships to one another (whether motivated by genuine care, sexual desire, jealousy or an urge to increase in status) are all very well drawn. Not to mention how insanely quotable and funny the rich dialogue and acerbic barbs are that pass between the two cousins. And Lanthimos knows just what to do with such an intelligent, bawdy and highly comedic script, as does the cast.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are both Oscar winners and yet it’s clear from very early on in the film that this is the best role and performance either of them of them has ever had/given. Emma Stone is already generating awards buzz and I can’t say it’s unwarranted. As much as I’ve enjoyed her work in the past, I’ve always felt she had difficulty disappearing into a character (Birdman withstanding). Much of her acting and characters in the past have felt awfully similar to the point that it’s almost bled together in my memory. This is a major (and very welcomed) departure though. She’s incredibly brazen here, aggressive, scheming and dangerously ambitious. It’s impossible not to admire and be in a bit of awe of her.

 And she goes toe to toe with Weisz brilliantly, who I sincerely hope is not ignored this awards season. She absolutely commands the screen and delivers biting insults with such precision and controlled venom. She also, particularly in the film’s earlier moments, has a lot of fun here and it’s impossible to take your eyes off her in these moments. And unlike with Stone’s character, she and Coleman’s relationship seem (at least to a certain extent) to be fairly genuine. And the little moments they share are so good and reflect that connection excellently.

Coleman, as a whole is terrific, but compared to Stone and Weisz she just doesn’t have that much to do. However, what she does is still remarkable. Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn round out the cast in supporting roles and are quite good (particularly the former), but let’s be honest: this film is (thankfully) all about the women. No one is going to look back on this movie and comment on their performances over that of Weisz and Stone, and that’s for the best.

And beyond all that, the film itself just looks outstanding. The locations, cinematography, costumes and hair design are all to die for, making it truly a marvel on all levels. I’d even go so far as to say a costume drama (or in this case comedy really) hasn’t looked this stylish and beautiful since Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Certainly, you’d be hard pressed to find one as fun!

Film criticism has always had a tendency to look down upon comedies. But in addition to making one think and cry, one of film’s greatest purposes is simply to entertain and this does so beautifully. It’s the kind of film that reminds you that truly great cinema can be fun, too, because my how delicious and funny is this masterpiece.

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