Friday, December 14, 2018

Big-time Oscar bait: THE FAVOURITE, Yorgos Lanthimos' most entertaining and accessible film so far, opens in South Florida

We've already seen as number of films this year with a terrific lead performance from a woman -- Kelly MacDonald in Puzzle, Julianne Moore in Bel Canto, Glenn Close in The Wife, to name a few of the best -- but here comes a movie that sports three major, spot-on and Oscar-worthy performances from its leading actresses. Plus, it proves such a fascinating, oddball entertainment for so many reasons that TrustMovies predicts it will be land Oscar nominations in quite a few categories.

THE FAVOURITE (British spelling, folks) is the fifth film from Greek movie-maker Yorgos Lanthimos (shown at right) to garner a theatrical release here in the USA, and it is by light years his most accessible and entertaining. Splendidly cast, top to bottom, it is also his first to concentrate so fully on women. The result has so far proven both mainstream-arthouse box-office and critical gold.

As usual with Lanthimos' work, the actual time frame is somewhat bizarre. If it seems like the present (Dogtooth or The Killing of Sacred Deer), the human behavior on view is from elsewhere -- in the case of the latter film, somewhere in the land of myth. In The Lobster, both time frame and behavior are completely elsewhere. (Alps comes closest to medling period and behavior into a cogent whole.)

The Favourite pulls a reverse twist: Set in England of the early 1700s, during the reign of Anne, Queen of Great Britain, the period details of the sets and costumes look both sumptuous and correct. Yet the dialog -- classy, witty and very smart -- is thoroughly of today, and it is delivered by the entire cast with such panache that it works with nary a hitch. (The screenplay comes via Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis.)

Note, too, the scene of dancing in the court (above) that begins as rather your standard sort before morphing into something closer to the kind of jitterbug/swing moves that were seen during World War II. Yet, instead of jarring us, thanks to the skill of Lanthimos, his cast and crew, this odd duality seems to somehow achieve precisely the correct tone.

The tale told is of Queen Anne (a brilliant job by Olivia Colman, above, of Broadchurch, Tyrannosaur and The Night Manager), a woman of unsteady mind, physical health and emotional state,

and the vying of two of her underlings (Rachel Weisz, above, and Emma Stone, below) for the place at the Queen's side as her favourite.

A war against France is currently raging, which provides some political backdrop and a chance for the lesser males in the story -- particularly the warring politicians Nicholas Hoult (below, center) and James Smith to strut their marginal stuff. Don't mistake my meaning here: The actors are just fine, but their roles are clearly subsidiary to those of the much stronger women.

Who holds the upper hand changes and then changes again, and the feint-and-parry antics of this crew proves consistently surprising and lots of dark fun. (Dark is ever-present in Lanthimos' world, as it seems to be in Greece.)

Interestingly, the most completely sympathetic character in the film is that of Masham, the decent young man played by Joe Alwyn (above, left) who simply has the hots for Ms Stone's character and is used as a disposable stepping stone throughout.

Lanthimos keeps a pretty firm hand and eye on things, but occasionally he can't resist a too-cute camera angle (as two photos up) or the use of something I believe is called a fish-eye lens, above, to produce an odd visual that calls attention to itself but says nothing. Still, this is overall a small price to pay for enjoying such good, dark fun.

History, bunnies (lots of them), poisoned tea and a runaway horse all come into play and help make this two hour movie pretty much fly by. That, and the work of its three very fine actresses, each of whom consistently commands your attention and respect, even sometimes convincing you that her character might just be the caring, humane person she so wants her Queen to admire.

But since this is a warts-and-all (maybe warts-and-little-else) affair in which power must be held so tightly, these strong, smart and heartless women must ever jockey for that power. The three actresses are a wonder to watch. As Ms Stone's character answers, when asked what side she is on concerning a particular dispute, "I am on my side." Well, aren't we all? And don't we end up in prisons mostly of our own making?

From Fox Searchlight and running 119 minutes, The Favourite, after opening on the coasts and elsewhere around the country, hits South Florida today, and is playing pretty much all over Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach County areas. 

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