By Chic DiCiccio
“The Favourite” is a zany, highly clever period piece that can best be described as a Monty Python movie that was directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s directed to technical perfection by Yorgos Lanthimos (and future Best Director Oscar winner) and everything from the costuming to classical music score is as gorgeous as any “proper” period piece.
But then, out of nowhere, someone drops an impressive F-bomb while doing something wholly inappropriate and “The Favourite” reaches peak satire levels and thusly becomes the best movie of 2018.
Don’t worry. Lanthimos and screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara don’t constantly pepper the screen with current pop culture references or anything like that. Yes, you will see a ball attended by Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) suddenly morph into a dance-off loaded with modern dance moves. It’s a head tilt moment that lasts a few moments and it’s easily funnier than most entire movies can hope to be.
Photo courtesy of Element Pictures
“The Favourite” isn’t a laugh out loud comedy considering most of it is an uncomfortable power struggle between the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah (Rachel Weisz, pictured), and her young cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone). The two of them plot and scheme against each other while trying to gain the “favour” of the Queen, whose borderline schizophrenia demands constant attention.
When things get dark, they get very dark. Poison, self-harm, overt threats of physical violence, and sexuality are weaponized, with most of it eliciting uncomfortable laughter. The beauty of it all is that Sarah and Abigail run circles around their male counterparts who are too busy powdering their wigs and moving their beauty marks to realize they are being played as fools.
This is the true genius of “The Favourite.” Typically, political power struggles in movies are reserved for men with women firmly on the sideline. The only male character who seems to have anything going on upstairs is Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who leads the political opposition to Sarah. He blackmails Abigail into becoming a spy, which she uses to her advantage even though he casually admits that he could murder her and nobody would bat an eye.
There is little doubt that this film is pushed to greatness by the career-topping performances of Colman, Weisz and Stone. Weisz has her iciness ramped up to nearly unbearable levels and she spews out insults with a smile, only making her that much scarier. It’s her best work yet, but definitely in her comfort zone. Stone is about as far from her “La La Land” character as she can get, and her calculated stabs at power get more intense as she goes.
Colman is a revelation (and future Best Actress Oscar winner). Whether she’s sobbing in her bedroom while wearing her pajamas and eating cake with her hands or screeching crazed orders at the help, Colman dominates the screen, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. This is a dominant performance filled with sadness, humor and (albeit brief) moments of heart. Forget Best Actress awards. Colman has put in the best acting performance of the year, regardless of gender.
Even after all this praise, “The Favourite” is not for everyone. It’s seriously cruel and sometimes so uncomfortable that it’s punishing for the viewer. There’s a load of subtext, and the thought-provoking ending makes it well worth seeing, just not more than once. Okay, twice. Maybe three times.