The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

There are certain directors that imbue their own style on movies that it’s nearly impossible to mistake who’s behind the camera. Auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and a handful of others know how to craft films with different plots and subject matters but put their own dynamic twists on it that it feels like there is a thematic through-line through all of them. While Yorgos Lanthimos is not up to par with those filmmakers yet, he is building a filmography that is quickly becoming incredibly unique and distinct from other modern directors. His films are dry, dialogue-driven, and as dark as anything out there. His latest effort, The Favourite, continues that trend as he moves from a dark psychological thriller (last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer [2017]), to a black comedy of vile proportions. The result is an entertaining ride that features three actresses in top form (particularly Emma Stone), and while Lanthimos’ style can overstay its welcome at points, there is no denying that it is one of the most unique films of the year.

Set in early 18th-century England, The Favourite focuses on a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her rule during political unease over the country’s war with France. Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is the Queen’s court favorite and aids her with not only day-to-day duties, but with political decisions as well. Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives one day in desperate need of a job and a place to live. The Queen takes a liking to Abigail, much to Sarah’s chagrin, and the two begin to jockey for power. The writers, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, do a good job of establishing all three of the leads and what exactly their status is. This movie is about power and the places one goes for said power, and the script is smart to not only establish its characters right away, but its tone as well.

Davis and McNamara deserve a lot of credit for creating the film’s tone and black comedy situations, but it is Lanthimos who transferred that vision onto the screen. Those who have seen his previous films will probably be used to his off-kilter filmmaking, but this is without a doubt the most confident direction of his career. The framing and camera movements are impressive and highlight the insanity that takes place throughout the 119-minute runtime. The film is constantly threatening to be style over substance, and while the style does start to wear out its welcome at points, the script and performances are so good that the film falls quickly back into place.

The Favourite is a true triple threat of a movie; the writing, directing, and especially the acting are all top notch. All three actresses are given plenty of moments to shine and, since the script lays the majority of its weight on them, it would’ve been easy for this film to fall flat had they not been up to the task. Olivia Colman takes a vile character, one that has an enormous amount of power but an almost insufferable attitude and brings a lot of weight and emotion to key scenes. Her role is a tricky balancing act, and she balances all of it close to perfectly. Rachel Weisz, who was also in Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015), at first plays the film’s straight-faced character, but is given plenty of comedic moments towards the back half of the film, which she crushes. The film’s ace in the hole, however, is the immensely talented Emma Stone. The Academy Award-winning actress proves yet again why she is one of the best actresses working today as she effortlessly switches from serious, to comedic, to evil, and back to reliability throughout many of the film’s scenes. Her character has the biggest arc and she crushes it.

While there is so much to like with The Favourite, there are a few shortcomings. Lanthimos’ style, while unique and fitting for the subject matter, starts to become a bit overwhelming towards the third act. The Favourite is his least grueling to date, mainly because it is so funny, but that might be more of a credit to the script. Speaking of which, while the film has numerous character arcs and some important parallels to today’s culture, the film’s plot is perhaps too straightforward. There is a lot of character stuff to unpack, but not much when it comes to the actual plot of the movie. That is a minor nitpick since the film is often hilarious and entertaining, but a somewhat frustrating shortcoming nevertheless.

That does not take away from the fact that The Favourite is one of the most unique and entertaining movies of 2018. It works in all the areas a film should work: writing, directing, and acting. There is so much too like during any given scene, and while the experience might be a little overwhelming by the end, it is defiantly worth seeing. The Favourite might not be my favorite film of 2018, but it is my favorite film from Lanthimos as my appreciation for his style is deepening with each passing film.

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