Tag: Emma Stone

The Favourite

tfThe darling of deadpan, Yorgos Lanthimos has once again worked his enigmatic style to deliver a film that is part period piece and part anachronistic satire. Anyone who has experienced the quirkiness of The Lobster or the uneasiness of The Killing of a Sacred Deer will know that the writer/director has a cynical view of humanity. His unique style, often touted as a humorous Kubrick, twangs on the raw nerves of his audience as much as his dark humour tickles their funny bone. The Favourite is no different and tonally this film snuggles comfortably in between his two previous outings.

Rabbit rearing, peculiar dance sequences, duck racing, opulent sets, outlandish costumes and more wigs than a drag queen’s wardrobe flesh out the Lanthimos world. The Favourite straddles that surreal space between spoof and serious period drama and is a satirical glance at a warring nation as well as a direct stare at the human condition.

The story takes place in 18th Century England and focusses on three deeply flawed characters; Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) as the incompetent, needy and childlike monarch Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel) as her ruthless but trusted adviser Lady Sarah, and Emma Stone (Birdman) as the interloping, scheming social climber, Abigail. 

Refreshingly, men for the most part are cast to the margins, sent to war, or form impotent chattels which Abigail and Sarah use in their contest for Queen Anne’s affection. 

It is a delightfully venomous pair of performances from Weisz and Stone who serve and volley salvos of shrewd deceitfulness at each other.  But it is Colman’s portrayal of Queen Anne that steals the show with a pained but often hilarious performance that packs equal measures of giddy glee and pathos.  Lanthimos’s cinematic flourishes further enhance proceedings, with intentional camerawork that manages to reduce giant sets into cloying and claustrophobic spaces. 

The absurdist dark humour won’t appeal to everyone—depending on your level of cynicism, you will either witness a masterful work of profundity or an overcooked piece of silliness. I loved it.

The Favourite opens Boxing day.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Battle of the Sexes

botsTennis seems to be a cursed sport in the world of celluloid, often plumbing the depths of innuendo or injecting romance where it feels out of place. Even the great Woody Allen failed with Match Point.  Unfortunately Battle of the Sexes fares no better, with Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton continuing a slow decline since their excellent debut with Little Miss Sunshine.

At the centre of this true story is a tennis match between tennis great Billy Jean King and former number one Bobby Riggs.  It’s 1973, and King (played by Emma Stone) is the number one womens tennis player in the world. Her attempts to resist the public taunts of self-confessed male chauvinist, Riggs (played by Steve Carell), become too great when he offers her a large pot of money to beat him in a tennis match—a match he touts as “male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist”. It is a promoters dream and a genuine case of “only in America.”  However, bubbling beneath the buildup to the match are Billy Jean’s personal battles over her sexuality and its impact on her marriage.

In an attempt to find some sort of meaningful message, the film rallies between Bobby Riggs and his gambling addiction to Billy Jean King and her relational problems, and seemingly everything in-between. Unfortunately, Battle of the Sexes seems very unsure about what message it’s trying to give; raising women’s rights, sexual identity, gambling, pay equity, marital balance, etc. It just throws all the balls in the air and lets them land … mostly out of court.

It’s a docudrama, biopic, romance, and comedy all rolled into one story that deserved a more focused telling. It’s a shame when the most compelling part of a film is the “what became of them” text that appears prior to the credits.

To be fair, it’s not all mishits and double-faults—the film does manage to capture the look and feel of the seventies without falling into cliche retro. Also, there are some tender moments that briefly brought me out of my slumber, but don’t expect the sum of its many parts to add up to a coherent whole.

You can see my published reviews here.