Sometimes, a movie just doesn’t work for you and unfortunately this is one of those time.
“The Favourite” tells the semi-true story of two cousins who jockey for the favoritism of Queen Anne in early-18th century England. Olivia Coleman stars as the Queen, Emma Stone portrays maid Abigail Hill and Rachel Weisz plays Duchess Sarah Churchill, while Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, and Mark Gatiss also star. Yorgos Lanthimos directs.
It happens at least once a year: a film earns critical praise and features a cast full of people you have loved in previous projects so you go into the theater excited and hoping for the best. Then about 20 minutes in that “…oh. Oh no” feeling creeps in and while you appreciate the art and effort put in by the actors and director, you just don’t actually enjoy yourself all that much. Last year for me that film was “Baby Driver” and in 2018 it is “The Favourite.”
All three main actress, as well as a wig-bearing Nicholas Hoult, give very solid performances, with Weisz standing out in-particularly. She is cunning and witty, with the ability to seem warm and empathetic one second but cold and vicious the next. She has several very amusing lines (“if you do not leave right now I shall start kicking you and won’t stop”) and, for my money, turns out the best work of the trio.
Stone is kind of just doing her quirky Emma Stone thing, just with a British accent, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less welcome. Although timid when we first meet her, Stone’s Abigail gets more and more gutsy as the film goes on, and by the end is as ruthless as Weisz. Coleman is given the most physical acting to do, yelling one second and crying the next, playing a Queen who has lost over a dozen children to miscarriages/infancy (the film choses to omit her husband completely) and is also dealing with physical ailments. If Stone and Weisz are playing mind games behind-the-scenes, Coleman is the physical acts up front. Nicholas Holt has a few fun lines of his own, on top of sporting a ridiculous wig, and every scene with him ranks among the film’s best.
The costume design by Sandy Powell (winner of three Oscars, including the similarly-themed “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Young Victoria”) and the setting and exterior shots (a majority of the filming took place at the 17th-century Hatfield House in England) are all lush and almost too good for the film they are in, acting as characters of their own. It’s nothing we’ve never seen before though the wide, often titled shots by cinematographer Robbie Ryan gives the outfits and sets plenty of room to breathe and play alongside the actors.
Despite all these factors working in the film’s favor [snickers], I just did not find myself enjoying it. There is plenty of fun to be had with women being nasty to each other (see: “Mean Girls”) however all too often it does not seem like the actors (nor characters) are enjoying it themselves, so how can we? Some of the dialogue from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script is snappy (when delivered properly British wit can be among the funniest) however these characters just seem to be being cruel for the sake of being cruel and that rubs off on the audience. I would have liked to see Coleman’s character face a gradual decline into a mental and emotional instability, but instead every scene starts with her being calm before flipping into chaos mode, or vise-versa; it gets repetitive.
There are slow parts and abstract parts for the sake of being slow and abstract, as is Lanthimos’ style (including a naked overweight man running around while being pelted with oranges in slow motion), but I just have to think I won’t be the one person put off by it all.
Look, I know I am in the minority here, and my inability to list any true flaws with the film outside personal preference reflects that. But this is my review and I just personally didn’t enjoy “The Favourite,” as much as I admired it and really enjoyed Weisz’s performance. If you see this movie and think it’s a riot then I am over-the-moon happy for you, truly I am. It just wasn’t one of my favourites of the year by a long shot.
Critic’s Grade: C+