3 ½ (out of 4)
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is able to realize multiple objectives concurrently with The Favourite. He composes a flagrant, caustically comic farce of the same regal period piece dramas usually magnetizing Academy Awards attention while simultaneously conveying his own brutally realistic and reasonably tragic window to the past by stringently obeying historical accuracy.
Lanthimos is among the most innovative contemporary filmmakers. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, he emulates Stanley Kubrick’s approaches to direction while circumnavigating outright imitation. The genre whoredom, emotional opaqueness, impeccably detailed sets and costumes – not to mention the splendid camera strokes of superimpositions, symmetrical framing, tracking movements – all direct back to Kubrick's fundamental influence. But Lanthimos' own assortment of fastidious and uncompromising auteurist tendencies allow him to color in his own mysteriously idiosyncratic characteristics.
After the satirical dystopian romantic comedy The Lobster and the near-horror comedy framing of his mythologically-inspired supernatural thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the director’s third English feature continues to advance his tendencies toward surrealism and absurdism in relation to the most confused, disgusting and uncanny aspects of human nature. The tonal acrobatics Lanthimos is able to pull off in The Favourite are akin to the counterintuitive strangeness of The Lobster and his vexing, jet black sense of humor in Dogtooth. In addition to the historical posturing Lanthimos draws upon screwball elements, classic comedy of manners, seals them in subtle irony and psychological torment and wraps them in a dazzlingly fish-eyed bundle.
By never losing the pinch of woe within its gonzo hilarity, the gratifying oneups(wo)manship between the delicious lead characters lend The Favourite much of its cinematic grandeur. Lanthimos' efforts would be moot if not for evenly exquisite actors: Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Nicholas Hoult are perfectly selected for their parts and do not hesitate to live up to them.
The fact that Lanthimos can both destroy and improve the face of the film's genre is a testament to his own indisputable talents and deliberately imposing vision. The cinematography, period flourishes, performances, scripting and editing are all of sublime repose. The deplorable crooning, coying and craning for attention is as disgusting as all the realistic vomit – palpable, deliberate disgust stains the ornate surface of The Favourite. This is baroque filmmaking at its finest as Lanthimos imparts tantalizingly modern cinematic formality.
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