Early last evening I saw Yorgos Lanthimos‘ The Favorite (Fox Searchlight, 11.23), and came away mostly pleased. All the things it’s been praised for so far — the comic perversity, All About Eve by way of Peter Greenaway, Dangerous Liaisons and Barry Lyndon lite, amusingly brittle performances (Rachel Weiss, Emma Stone, HE’s own Olivia Colman), the scabrous humor, Robbie Ryan‘s handsome cinematography — are there in abundance. I mostly had no beefs.
Lanthimos hasn’t backed away from his generally perverse sensibility, but The Favourite is certainly his most accessible, audience-friendly film.
Colman (whose performance in Tyrannosaur was so worshipped by this columnist that I raised money to pay for press screenings that Strand Releasing wouldn’t pop for) will definitely snag a Best Supporting Actress nomination, and Stone, who’s being currently tributed by the Telluride Film Festival, may also land a Best Actress nom. Perhaps Weiss also. Or all three will.
Set in the early 1700s, The Favourite is about a pair of shrewd, ruthless schemers — Weiss’s Sarah Churchill and Stone’s Abigail Masham — plotting and back-biting in order to gain favor with and power from the emotionally volatile, constantly-health-challenged Queen Anne (Colman).
For the first hour or so The Favourite is…well, not entirely “great” but a delightfully wicked hoot. It put me in reasonably good spirits. A critic sitting near me was laughing heartily and having a great old time; ditto most of the audience.
But somewhere around the 75-minute mark and until the end (basically the last 45 minutes) the film slows down and then begins to run out of steam. By the 100-minute mark I was muttering under my breath (a) “I’m starting to not care all that much who wins this battle of courtly influence” and (b) “let’s wrap this up already…why does it have to be two hours?” Lanthimos began to try my patience in the way that Whit Stillman‘s Love and Friendship had. The laughing critic downshifted into chuckling, and then into silence.
But don’t let me stop you. Judging by the critical response so far (100% Rotten Tomatoes, 91% Metacritic), most viewers will be fine with The Favourite all the way through. And, as noted, Colman will get quite the award-season ride out of this, and perhaps Stone and Weiss will also.
Ryan and Lanthimos have shot portions of this film in a John Alcott, Barry Lyndon, wide-angle lens sort of way (albeit not within a 1.66 to 1 aspect ratio) but also from time to time with fisheye lenses, which deliberately distort. I couldn’t quite fathom why they used them.