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« NYFF: Claire Denis and the "High Life" | Main | Yes No Maybe So: Christian Bale is "Vice" »
Wednesday
Oct032018

NYFF: Olivia, Rachel, and Emma in "The Favourite"

Nathaniel reporting from the New York Film Festival

"Bunnies aren't just cute like everyone supposes," the vengeance demon Anya famously sang on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you should know straightaway that she would absolutely recoil at The Favourite, which is filled with bunnies, even as she might well relate to the brutal practicalities of the social maneuvering between the servant Abigail (Emma Stone) and her cousin Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) for the Queen's affections. Yet the two things, bunnies and favouritism, are inextricably linked.

Queen Anne's (Olivia Colman) chambers are filled with bunnies, seventeen to be precise, each named after one of her miscarried or stillborn babies. She would very much like her favourite Lady, whoever it is, to fawn on them...

In this matter Sarah will not comply, telling her longtime friend and Queen at the beginning of the film that even love has its limits. Abigail, on the other hand, will plop right down on the floor to play with them once she's managed some highly coveted alone time with the Queen. Some people hide their scars but Queen Anne fawns on hers --  twitchy furry and hopping -- and routinely celebrates them. She lets them roam wild in her room, especially on their "birthdays". And that's quite enough about the plot because The Favourite's pleasures are many, and often surprising, particularly in the way that practically every moment, conversation, slight, success, secret, gossip, or letter shifts the power dynamic in the wider Court and in the Queen's bedchamber, which she rarely vacates for long given both her ill health and her volatile moods. 

Director Yorgo Lanthimos, working for the first time with someone else's words (the razor sharp screenplay comes courtesy of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), deploys his ace team of collaborators with superb effect, each either emphasizing or counterbalancing the ever-shifting ground beneath the characters. The production design is marvelously expansive making each room and corridor both enclosed and vast and ripe with drama. The cinematography, often deploying fish eye lenses or shooting from odd angles or in obscuring candle light, continually distort the images but the effect is so consistent that it's also weirdly steadying. And last, but certainly not least, the costumes by Sandy Powell provide a genius mix of historically accurate (silhouettes) and expressively modern (fabric) that free the film from the 'costume drama' cage, as often as the seventeen bunnies are loosed. 

Yorgos Lanthimos tremendously assured direction and three brilliant actresses, continually astound for their ability to both place you in their confidence and repel you. Lady Sarah is the hardest to "like" outright but Weisz plays her with so much intelligence and confidence that the suspicion that you might be wrong about her nags at your own discomfort with her cruelty. Queen Anne is a mess but Colman plays her with such comic gusto and pathos, that you'd probably humiliate yourself to be in her favor, too. This push and pull is true even of Abigail, who enters the picture as its sweetest soul. Even then before all the shenanigans begin, Stone plays her with a slyly dichotomous blend of sincerity and shameless opportunism. Throughout the film, as the power dynamic shifts you're continually compelled to reassess your own feelings about each woman, and even what you thought of that earlier scene you liked so much.

Who's zooming who, exactly? Maybe we're all willingly duped, given our particular vanities and fickleness, just as often as we're shadily misled!

One of the most telling and inspired mini-scenes in the film is a bit wherein Queen Anne stuffs her face to the point of vomiting, though she's been warned not to indulge. After a servant wipes the vomit away, she dives right back into the edibles. The tragicomic effect is not unlike the vice grip the movie holds you in; The Favourite is so delicious that you keep wanting more of it, even though you know it's about to make you sick. 

The Favourite's brilliantly sustained final image, dissolving again and again and again, ends the movie on a perverse though unsurprisingly tragic note. "Bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies." Some scars are more visible than others; when there are too many, you're blind to all else.

The Favourite was the Opening Night Selection and will play once more on October 13th at 2:45 PM. It opens in limited release on November 23rd. 

Grade: A/A-
Oscar Chances: An across the board threat in virtually every category but especially Picture, Costume Design, Director, Screenplay, and Actress or Supporting Actress. We imagine there will be much disagreement about who is "supporting" whom here but just know that in the screentime sweepstakes the hierarchy goes like so -- Stone, Colman, and Weisz -- but  the movie is very triangular. Stone is the clearest "lead" in the reductive sense, though, as she has the biggest character arc journey and is also the prime catalyst for the plot.

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Reader Comments (26)

If Stone gets nominated I hope the Academy write her a Sorry note to apologise for last years snub.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

"Snubs" can be great career enrichment opportunities for actors.

Could you imagine if Keira Knightley had a nomination for every time she was good in a baity project? She'd be getting her ninth nomination this year and everyone would hate her.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Wonderful writing, Nathaniel!
Together with ROME, it's my favourite movie from this year Venice Film Festival. Colman should win best supporting (she is REALLY awesome) and between this and Disobedience it will be a shame if Weisz doesn't get recognised this year. Stone is wonderful too, and in my book her character is clearly the lead here.
Can't wait to watch it again.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFerdi

Cannot wait for Colman's Best Supporting Actress Oscar speech. Her four BAFTA TV ones are hilarious.

This is my most anticipated film of the fall season. (And ADORE the Buffy reference in this post!)

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I am so looking forward to this movie... I have loved Olivia Colman since whenever... I also like both Stone and Weisz

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

I am very excited, but knowing Lanthimos, some of those bunnies will suffer, and I hope I can handle it.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I’m really looking forward to this. What a charming trio. Weisz is my favourite of the 3 but I love both Stone & Colman. Could Disobedience give Weisz some extra momentum for a nom?

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChoog

I hope this gives momentum to Weisz in Disobedience and not the other way around.

I want her to get a nomination in leading. She's a terrific actress, one of the best of our time - and still no best actress nomination!

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

How Stone's accent? It's difficult to see her in a period piece like this. Battle of the Sexes was too recent to be a period piece.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I'm all in, this is my most anticipated film of this year. Love the cast, the subject matter, and have even read a book on Sarah Churchill. Bunnies or no bunnies, bring it on.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

More than anytink, I'm praying all three ladies will be recognized.. But I hope Stone goes Lead n Colman supp n her Queen Anne sweeps all the televised supp actresses prizes!! 😁

I wonder will some critic groups give a 3-way best actress tie to these three brilliant actresses?? There wld b smashing!! 😁

I can't wait for the Beauty n the Beast showdown sumday on this site!! Haha

Pick a FAVOURITE!! πŸ˜‚

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Excited for this!

I hope that, unlike her pal Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone is able to maintain an accent for more than a few seconds at a time.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Mike - her accent is perfect and maintained at all times.

All 3 ladies are perfection in fact. No one has her way with a cutting line like Weisz, Colman is not only funny but brings heart, depth to the tragic Queen while evil scheming looks really good on Stone. She also still makes the best faces.

October 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

wide release nov 23 when i've been reading about it online for weeks already is just like, really unfair.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCharles O

stoked for Weisz and Colman! I want them to continue to get great parts and this will get them a lot more exposure than normal imo.

October 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

Stone definitely deserved a nod for Battle of the Sexes and seems to be best suited for a lead actress campaign for The Favourite. It would be nice to see all three stars nominated for Oscars this year, and for Stone to get some credit for her impeccable and creatively-daring choices as of late. Her streching herself artistically is a thing of beauty to watch.

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I want this Oscar season to be one where they nominate actresses that should have many more noms by now. My biggest pic is Toni for Hereditary - and hoping for Emily Blunt (would love a Nicole Kidman like year with Moulin Rouge and The Others, where they choose A Quiet Place over Mary Poppins Returns). Definitely want Rachel Weisz to surprise and get TWO nominations this year for Disobedience and The Favorite.

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Honestly the three of them are all SO good in this movie, but I have grave concerns Academy members aren't going to give three of ten actress slots to performers from the same film, which means someone will be left out, and in fact, I can see a scenario in which two of them are snubbed if FS bungles the campaign (Colman is the only lock), which will be tremendously disappointing. Then again, as always, there are just too many excellent actresses and too many worthy performances gunning for too few slots, so disappointment somewhere is inevitable.

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

at the moment i think the best scenario to honor all of them is a SAG ensemble win :) (Joe Alwyn and especially Nicholas Hoult are also good in the movie)

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Weisz is WAY overdue for a second nomination.

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFR

Yeeees, also loved it. So much fun, in a perverse way. Perhaps because the movie keeps surprising you and playing with you as much as the three ladies do with each other.

I'm tempted to say all three are leading actually, at least Stone and Colman are (the final scene making the firm case for that) but given how in the end the story is about the three women I'm inclined to say all three are leading.

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

Weisz is probably stands the best chance of the 3. She’s the only one everyone seems to agree is supporting therefore won’t have the splitting issue of Stone and Coleman

October 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNic

Yes, Weisz enjoys the clear distinction tt every pundits r putting her in Supp but she still risk being push off the final 5 by Colman or Stone, whoever is campaigning in Supp.

I hope Colman goes supp, thereby increasing her chance o winning; and Stone, Lead since the story arc is based on her rise to becoming The Favourite. Fervently hope tt all three ladies get nom!! 😁

But they r facng insane competition! Wat with the other royal drama w English history two most famous queens rolling out soon...

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Can the movie land two Supporting Actress nominations (and we all know how often that happens in that category) and one for Leading Actress?

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo Horn

The schedule showing here at the upcoming Chicago Film Festival is sold out. Sonofabitch.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Coleman has been wonderful in everything she's played in, so it will be a treat if she's nominated for this one. Her performance in Tyrannasour was Oscar worthy, which was the first time I'd ever seen her act. She's one of the best working today.

October 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterOdee

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