The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

"It's supposed to be that way… that's the point!"

There's no warmth to the touch of The Favourite. With its heavy reliance on natural lighting in a perpetually overcast world, sickly washed-out set design & costuming where never could exist a shade of white "pure as the driven snow", and frequent fisheye lens perspective that leaves the whole world looking crooked, it's as if director Yorgos Lanthimos is not only trying to drain all the glamour out of his 18th-century period piece set in the court of Queen Anne, but also a great deal of the humanity too.

"It's supposed to be that way… that's the point!"

Once again Lanthimos' love for Kubrick is abundantly evident, with overt shades of Barry Lyndon giving way to hints of the upper-class grotesqueness more akin to Eyes Wide Shut. We see through the story of cousins Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz) how desperately so many people of this time wanted to be a part of that elite station ruling over society (ha! as if much has changed) and the ways in which they'll demean themselves to get there. Rush week has nothing on what these poor saps end up doing. Those who are already "in" frequently address their "lessers" in very vulgar terms which, oddly enough, makes the speaker seem more familiarly human, while also simultaneously underscoring the way in which the aristocratic nobility reduce others to objects (in this case frequently just a body part), with everyone being a means to some sordid ends. While it's initially entertaining (in a way) to witness, the cycle of abuse becomes an increasingly ugly spectacle as the film goes on.  

"It's supposed to be that way… that's the point!"

While Weisz and Stone turn in fascinating performances as the cousins, it's Olivia Colman as the tragically childless Queen who turns in the most emotionally affecting performance. Colman plays Anne as a queen who has felt too much deep personal pain and has lost most of the resources to deal with it, and is now just about inconsolable… and anyone who ever seems to offer even a hint of consolation invariably wants something in return. I've only ever seen Colman on the bizarre British sitcom Peep Show where if I remember correctly she played something of a girl-next-door type, and that in a way made her portrayal of the Queen even more humanizing. I know on a conscious rational level that members of royalty are intrinsically no different from anyone else, but seeing a deeply vulnerable Colman as Anne really drove that point home. Although, if we're being honest, I do wish her most emotionally expressive/overwhelming moments weren't always characterized by that same ear-piecing shriek she uses to drive her sources of discomfort into submission.

"It's supposed to be that way… that's the point!"

Yorgos Lanthimos is a weird dude. If you told me the director had made a cameo in this movie as the mostly naked(?) guy in the purple wig who seems to relish getting fruit thrown at him, I'd only be half surprised. There's a very palpable sense of not only self-loathing but loathing of all humanity that runs throughout this picture. I still find myself wondering if The Favourite is just a deeply misanthropic film or if it also aims to inspire misanthropy in the viewer. Sure the film very effectively shows that both aristocratic objectification and the willing objectification of self/sale of self in order to procure advancement debases everyone involved and brings out our innate cruelty, but what's to keep us limiting that reading to only societies with an aristocratic nobility and not just any society where some people are better off than others? The subtext is loaded with dark possibilities to leave the viewer uncomfortable long after it's all over.

"It's supposed to be that way… that's the point!"

Yeah I know. And I've said that sort of thing myself to defend a movie. But as well-executed or thought-provoking as it might've been, The Favourite was an overwhelmingly feel-bad experience for me. So do I still have to like it? And I mean I think I sorta get the purpose of why Lanthimos keeps including dead-handed transactional handjobs in his films, but does that mean I really have to appreciate watching it? And again, I get why all the male parts in this movie seem severely underwritten compared with our three lead women, but does…well nevermind. I'm sure you get my point.

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