Spoiler-free review. Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer was my #1 of 2017 and I consider Dogtooth (2009) among the most original foreign films of the last ten years, so on that basis I was obviously looking forward to what the Greek filmmaker would do next.
Strong performances, elegant costumes, and witty dialogue are the best things going on. Set in the 1700s, a fictionalized account of life at the court in England with an unhinged, ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and the manipulative cousins (Rachel Weisz & Emma Stone) who vie for her favor. It’s been written there is no evidence Queen Anne was a lesbian though no way to rule this out categorically. The Queen is affected by grief, as she has lost several children and adds a rabbit to her collection each time to comfort herself. The story is also about jealousy and abuse of power, hardly new territory, but themes that still hold true and are presented in an entertaining, comedic way.
Lots of talent involved in front of and behind the camera, new screenwriters are brought in, and a bigger budget for the director, but I prefer Lanthimos’ previous films he co-wrote with Efthymis Filippou which leave room for the viewer to interpret. His latest, while well-acted and fun at times, is a performance-driven period comedy-drama that is style over substance. Worth a watch yet feels oscar-baity and not as dream-like compared to Lanthimos’ earlier work. A crowd-pleasing comedy and pretty straightforward.
As another blogger noted, The Favourite is “born out of real world misogyny – a time and place where women had few options“. Yet there are echoes of #MeToo as well according to the director. As timely as it may seem, the original screenplay for The Favourite was written 20 years ago, but was easier to get made now where films with female casts are regular occurrences.
I’m not the biggest fan of period films so that may have played a part in my middling enjoyment. What we get is an edgy arthouse filmmaker attempting to appeal to the masses with a mainstream oscar contender. A few scenes amused me such as the wedding night and returning from hell speech. May have been more enjoyable if I’d seen it with a packed audience. Perhaps on rewatches I’ll grow to love the humorous exchanges? Isn’t a bad film yet not something I connected to on a personal or emotional level. He is a director who made his name by creating original concepts and the inventiveness is what drew me to his work in the first place.
Not a total sell out by Lanthimos as the film is still quite weird, but the storytelling is certainly not as bold and surprising as his previous work and may slightly underwhelm those fans who loved the director’s darker, challenging tales. If Lanthimos’ smaller arthouse films were too strange and disturbing for you, The Favourite, which subverts gender roles and is the director’s funniest, might be exactly what you want.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome