NYFF Film Review: ‘The Favourite’ Has Bite Thanks To Olivia Colman’s Menacing Performance


2018 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Yorgos Lanthimos shocked the cinematic world with his darkly comedic film “The Lobster” in 2015 before turning some heads in 2017 with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”  His signature deadpan deliveries and uniquely rich directions are on full display with his new period piece “The Favourite.”  Showing no remorse for his subjects, Lanthimos challenges his players, pushes his crafts team, and manages to administer one of the year’s most divisive yet eccentric films.  With a gleaming turn from Olivia Colman at its center, along with rich designs, “The Favourite” has the goods to either capture the attention of many, or frustrate the most avid cinema lovers to the very core.  That may be a beautiful place to be.

The Favourite,” tells the story of Queen Anne (Colman). At this point during the 18th century, she occupies the throne, while her close friend Lady Sarah (played by Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead.  When a new servant Abigail (played by Emma Stone), both her and Sarah begin to compete for the Queen’s attention and devotion.

Written by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, the film’s script pops with quotable dialogue and enriching plot devices.  Ripping laughs out of the audience like a bully snatching a toy from a vulnerable child, the viewer can almost feel guilty for having as much fun at one’s expense.  While the laughs can come furious and often, the story doesn’t sustain its pace nor promise for a satisfying resolution.  Lanthimos’ direction can be jarring for the viewer, almost imitating a Tom Hooper-Danny Cohen collaboration, that at times feels distracting.

Swallowing her role whole, Olivia Colman‘s Queen Anne is a marvelous portrait of a frail, broken woman, with insecurities wearing on every beat and movement of her life.  Colman’s commitment to her wit, and selecting critical moments in which to illustrate her emotion are staggeringly brilliant.  The temptress invites us into her world (many times her bed), to empathize with her suffering and yearn for love, even in the most peculiar places.

Emma Stone‘s quintessential charm hasn’t been put to better use lately as she gets to sprint through the film with grace and a sinister bearing.  She ravishes her role at times, playing expertly against her co-stars, and demanding if not, overpowering the viewer’s attention before permitting us to look elsewhere.  Rachel Weisz‘s Sarah is hilariously divine, meticulously maneuvering through the film like a tornado, ripping the fear and uneasiness out of anyone she encounters.  There’s also some fine work coming from the brief but memorable turns of Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn, both flamboyantly charming.

A fisheye lens may not have been the best execution for pivotal scenes, but cinematographer Robbie Ryan makes the commitment, paying off at times. Yorgos Mavropsaridis‘ editing is one of the film’s bizarre spreads as the viewer is forced to move from person-to-person in a fade-in-fade-out manner that becomes more frustration as the minutes move on.  We also have to credit the film’s thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion on the same technical aspect.

The Favourite” finds much life in its toothsome production design and immaculate costume work.  It’s hard to imagine Oscar lineups that won’t include Fiona Crombie and Sandy Powell sitting squarely in the middle of it.  Surprising was how taken the sound work is, as executed by a team that includes Johnnie Burn, the brilliant mind behind “Under the Skin.”  For a film that includes so much comedy, a sound mix that almost creates a psychological thriller-like pallet is a heavenly experience that deserves to be noted.

The Favourite” has its head in the right place.  Yorgos Lanthimos is not concerned with appealing to the masses.  Much like great auteurs like David Lynch and Terrence Malick, his films are solely his own, and he has decided to tell stories the way he wants to, with no compromise or shortchanging his viewers for the sake of comfort.  It’s a worthwhile endeavor.

“The Favourite” is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures and opens in theaters on Nov. 23.

GRADE: (★)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “THE FAVOURITE” ranks among the contenders!