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Review: The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Emma Stone in The Favourite

A twisted vision of a twisted tale so thorough in its depravity as to barely shock at all. In the end, the only thing that'll turn the audience's stomachs is to cut through the cattiness and the spitefulness and the salaciousness and engage our emotions. The Favourite takes its time toward getting around to poking at its characters' hardened hearts, but when it does, the cumulative effect of all the seemingly heartless scheming and backstabbing is enormous. An audacious final image resembles that of a deranged mind's desperate final thoughts before dying, as everything blurs into a cacophonous collage of irrelevance save the hurt that lingers still, and the love that has engendered it. Enjoy the bitching while you may, but know the price you'll pay for doing so - The Favourite is that blackest of black comedies, in that the reward for its laughter is only pain.

Yet you really should laugh if you're going to get anything out of it, and perhaps wince too; you surely will laugh, and indeed wince. This is a caustic chamber drama with an emphasis on the chamber - its few exterior scenes are largely overcast and limited in locale, and Robbie Ryan's fisheye lens cramps everyone into their own space in his compressed compositions. It's cerebral in nature but corporeal in expression, every new moment apparently concerned with some form of physical interaction. Yorgos Lanthimos, even at his most self-indulgent, has never been a filmmaker inclined to wallow in the detail of the shock value that characterizes his work, and the numerous scenes of gout treatment and/or sex are never pointlessly prioritized over the skilful screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. They're taking delicious little liberties with the past, for sure, but never exploiting it for exploitation's sake alone; there being a genuine narrative purpose to each and every machination, the varying intended emotional responses are stronger, more impactful.

Seeing Lanthimos modulate his minimalism around the maximalism of a grand, vivid, opulent period drama (albeit one designed with a conceptual starkness that sits neatly alongside his previous movies) is not merely a reminder of what he is capable of achieving, but a confirmation of those achievements in their most convincing form yet. Davis and McNamara have put to rest the pretentious auteur, while Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz have awoken the humanist. Michael Haneke has previously praised Lanthimos, whose style recalls Haneke's without the character-driven purpose; this is his least Haneke-esque film to date stylistically, though thematically it is the opposite. And that cast is quite marvellous, the design team responsible for that stark opulence ingenious, the whole enterprise thoroughly ravishing in so many ways. And then The Favourite proves itself to be even more than it has promised, in spite of an apparent third-act slump that's only biding its time before revealing its true constitution as a stunning close to a stunning movie.

Image Credit: MovieStillsDB

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