Just when one would think the Oscars might have a shred of relevancy left, they nominate “The Favourite” for nine Academy Awards.
This period drama-comedy set in 18th century England follows two women competing with and sabotaging each other for the favor of the ailing Queen Anne. Rachel Weisz plays Lady Sarah, the queen’s closest friend and confidante, who is attempting to influence the current war with France for her own interests. Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives seeking employment and a roof over her head, and charms her way up through the ranks to restore herself to something resembling a livelihood.
For an artsy and droll period piece like this, even this critic was unsure of what the whole point was, because the arcs of all the characters end up in unsatisfying and anti-climactic places. Is it a tale of the classes, about a poor woman overcoming the corrupt and cruel rich? No. Is it a tale of feminism and sexuality? It’s an element of the film, but not the point of it. Is it about an ailing queen who’s learning to grow and rise above her own ailments and tribulations? Not at all, no.
It’s a purely character-driven movie that artfully films a bunch of scenes you might think would have some meaning, but it all sort of ends up going to the biggest non-resolution ever. In the end, the point of it all is that there isn’t really a point, as nihilism takes over the final act.
Performance and technically speaking, everything is fantastic. Stone and Weisz are both great, but hardly perform anything that should qualify them for nominations (I’m starting to think someone at the Academy has a thing for Stone, with this and last year’s “La La Land” nominations.) Olivia Colman’s performance is excellent as the queen, though the character herself just does a lot of tantrum throwing and wailing and whining.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos has made a technically strong film with some great costume and set design. But when your Oscar-bait period piece seems to have no point, why would the common movie-goer want to watch something like this ibstead of a blockbuster?
You could argue that this is a comedy for adults, but it’s not raucously hilarious; it focuses more on drama than on its own ever-present quirkiness, which seems like an odd choice. It’s definitely amusing at times and may emit a chuckle here and there, but that’s about it. And while it may present plenty of interesting themes, none of them wraps up into anything of substance by the third act.
“The Favourite” is mediocre compared with so many other Oscar-worthy movies, with no apparent goal aside from letting its characters metaphorically tear each other apart. If this is what is considered award-worthy, how did the hilariously subpar (but very fun) “Venom” escape a nomination? It’s just as pointless regarding story, and Tom Hardy’s zany slapstick antics and weirdness are far more entertaining performance-wise.
So if this is the kind of movie the Academy thinks is award-worthy, how do they ever expect to maintain any sort of relevancy nominating films that have been made almost exclusively to appeal to their own arthouse preferences and tastes? Yes, Marvel’s “Black Panther” was nominated, but everyone knows it won’t win — and it wouldn’t be hard to believe there might be other reasons for its nomination (cough #OscarsSoWhite cough).
Why would the average moviegoer watch this when they could watch hundreds of superior films in either category? Last year’s “The Shape of Water” deserved every bit of its Best Picture award, and it did leagues more than “The Favourite”: It was thrillingly entertaining, and it satisfactorily wrapped up all of the character arcs.
“The Favourite” will leave you with a hollow, unsatisfied feeling, even with a few mild chuckles and good (not great) performances.
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“The Favourite” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.