Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
I was rather miffed that one of my favourite directors, the founder of the Greek Weird Wave, Yorgos Lanthimos, skipped TIFF last year with his latest, The Favourite. We had watched and supported him since Alps, and his films always received warm receptions.
Of course the one theatre near us shows nothing but capes, blockbusters, kids films and fart joke comedies. So, it was a happy coincidence that found us having to travel to Toronto extremely early for a dinner get together because of a snowstorm. This left us hours to kill once we arrived … fortunately, it’s Toronto, so The Favourite was playing at several cinemas within a short walk.
In my review of Killing of a Sacred Deer, I stated that Lanthimos was evolving, and it was positively frightening. Rather than pure absurdity and shock, he was now weaving a special style of creepy right into the fabric of the story and characters. With The Favourite, he’s let this new found technique loose on a biographical story of intrigue, deceit, and treachery.
It’s a big jump from strange stories that Lanthimos and long time writing partner Efthymis Filippou would somehow dream up to what is essentially a biopic penned by his executive producers. I had some concerns. I shouldn’t have, as Lanthimos imbued his particular, but evolved, weirdness on to this tale of Queen Anne and her concubines.
Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are pitch perfect as the competing social satellites in Queen Anne’s orbit, but it’s Olivia Coleman’s sometimes nuanced, sometimes bold portrait of the Monarch that shines above all. My goodness that woman can act. I’m so glad she scored best actress at the GG’s, and hope she does well at the Oscars. It was criminal that she wasn’t recognized for her performance in Tyrannosaur, and hopefully her day has come.
Absurdist humor has always been a hallmark of Lanthimos’ work. It’s been evolving, too, becoming more subtle. The shift started with his English language films, but Killing of a Sacred Deer is where it really became underground, and then missing entirely in the last act. There is subtle humor here, but it is definitely underplayed … so much so that when some overt physical comedy arrives in the form of Emma Stone’s Abigail literally getting pushed around it seems a bit forced. Now, on the other hand when it’s Abigail doing the pushing, it’s a horse of a different colour. That all being said there are anthropomorphized bunnies as well as ducks doing what ducks shouldn’t be doing. Oh yes, and an unseen scene involving Lobsters that I’m sure Lanthimos planted with wry nods to a previous film. So if anything, his humor has a good home here.
Ultraviolence has also been another Lanthimos cornerstone. While it still exists in The Favourite, like the humour, it’s been toned down. There is one scene, though, and you’ll know it when you see it, that will make you squirm.
My biggest worry going into The Favourite was about another Lanthimos trademark. Dancing. How the hell is he going to pull off his most iconic stamp, one that has been the most absurdly comedic centerpiece in all his previous films, in this, a rather straight narrative period piece.
Again, not to worry. He does. And it may be his best yet.