God please save the Queen.
In the early 18th century and England is at war with the French. It’s the kind of war that will never seem like it’s ending because certain people in power are profiting too much off of it and don’t want to miss out on all that extra income. And mostly, the reason why it’s still going on, despite a great deal of opposition from those in Parliament is because the frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is constantly listening to her close friend and confidant Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who does her part in governing the country while Queen Anne has her usual fits with anger, depression and random bouts of sickness. But while their arrangement may not be working for anybody else, they make it work and seem perfectly content with it; that is, until Abigail (Emma Stone), Lady Sarah’s estranged cousin shows up and brings all sorts of conflict to a mansion that was fine as is.
Most of those who see the Favourite have already complained that it seems as if director Yorgos Lanthimos has sold-out. People say it’s because he didn’t write the screenplay, the material isn’t nearly as weird as we’re used to with him, and it’s a costume-drama that feels like it has its set on some awards, which isn’t too surprising for a movie released in mid-December. But if something as dark, as eerie, and as plain strange as the Favourite is considered “selling-out”, then fine, because this is perhaps the most subversive crowd-pleaser I’ve ever seen.
It’s also one of the best of the year.
For one, the script by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis is downright genius and it’s no surprise that Lanthimos took it to work with. Like his flicks, it’s filled with so much dark comedy, odd asides, and tragically frustrating characters who you want to hate and never see again because of the mean, awful, and terrible things that they do/say to one another, but they’re so entertaining and compelling to watch, you just can’t help but enjoy their awfulness. In a way, the Favourite reminded me much of a Peter Greenaway film, in the sense that every shot is perfectly calculated and composed, but also because it features terrible people saying and doing a lot of terrible things, without any real sense of their own morality or care for what it is that they do – they’re fine being themselves, even if themselves are just immoral, when you get down to it.
And watching a bunch of terrible people be terrible to one another may not sound like the best time of all, but somehow, Lanthimos makes it so damn entertaining. He knows exactly how to hold a shot to make you feel incredibly tense and clueless as to what’s going to happen next (as if the natural-lighting wasn’t enough), but he also knows how to build these characters up until the point where we think we have a good enough idea of who they are, what makes them tick, what they desire, and why it is that they matter in the grander scheme of things. Yes, I’m literally speaking of character-development, which sounds so simple and obvious, but you’d be shocked by how many films don’t even bother with this, especially those about ridiculously terrible people.
Then again, they also don’t have this same sort of cast, either.
What does make the Favourite so special is that Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, regardless of who’s considering “supporting”, or “lead”, or what have you, is that they all play-off one another that makes their constant power-plays that much more intriguing. Cause they’re all fighting for a piece of that royal pie, each one has their own intentions, hopes, dreams, wants, wishes, desires, and expectations, and to watch them all try to fight for themselves in these battles, no matter how large or small, makes the two-hours breeze-by. Sure, it helps that all of the take-downs and insults are hilarious, but actually having characters where you think you know every single little thing about them, yet there’s still that fresh air of mystery, makes it all the more watchable.
And it’s hard to call something as morbid as the Favourite “fun”, but that’s what it is and it’s mostly because cause of this cast. Colman, who has been great in everything she pops up in, no matter how key the role is, plays the tragically weak Queen Anne in an honest way, where we hate and despise for her being such a wreck and want her to strengthen-up, but when we learn more about her past and realize why she is the way she is, it’s hard not to feel sympathy. But as much as it may seem like it’s easy to see where her character is going to go and what her motives are, it becomes clear that she may have a few tricks up her sleeve that we too don’t even see coming.
Same goes for Stone’s Abigail and Weisz’s Lady Sarah, who are both playing cousins that clearly love and respect one another, but also want so badly to kill each other somehow, too. In a sense this is like every other Lanthimos movie, wherein those closest to you, the nearest and dearest to your heart, are sometimes the most dangerous and able to take you down when you’re not looking – it also shows clear disdain for family-units, but in this sense, it kind of works and makes sense. As a trio of leads, they’re near-perfect; they find the right balance between drama and comedy, without it ever seeming as if they’re trying too hard.
Also, it’s kind of great to see women-in-power.
Consensus: With a great cast, witty material, and an incredibly intense direction from Lanthimos, the Favourite ends up being his best, while still not forgetting his usual traits of absolute weirdness, darkness, and sheer intrigue.
9 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight