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Emma Stone in The Favourite
TheKillingofaSacredDeer.Hisangles
are low, his lenses wide and his cam-
era constantly in motion, tracking and whip-panning. In Sacred Deer, such ele- ments added a kind of mythic grandeur to the proceedings, as if the judgment of the gods were ever-present, looming over the characters and their bizarre roundelay of guilt and revenge. But they imbue The Favourite with a certain delirious unpre- dictability, a sense that the standard-issue costume drama, usually so stately and
In thIs world where women seem to hold all the power, the men are mostly Interested In hedonIsm and degradatIon.
regal, has been opened up and turned inside out. (There’s also a dance sequence, mixing the modern and the classical, that manages to be both hilariously bizarre and beautiful.)
But amid all this Lanthimosian weirdness, the film breathes, too. The screenplay is the first of his major works that the director hasn’t at least co-writ- ten; it’s credited to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, and apparently it has been bouncing around for two decades. Maybe that provenance accounts for the urgency of the performances, though Lanthimos has been building to that
in his work. In the past, the director preferred an arch, declarative acting style, which worked perfectly well with his absurdist, symbolic storylines. Sacred Deer began to show cracks in that façade, however, letting in bits of emotion and despair and (gasp) humanity. And The Favourite’s trio of lead actresses dig into their parts with gusto.
This is a movie filled with profanity and anguish and illness and bodily fluids, and more than any previous picture by this director, its world feels lived in, its stakes important. For once, the horrors don’t seem quite so arbitrary. Beneath all their conniving and backstabbing, these women act like they deeply need this proximity to power — that it’s the one thing keeping them from ignominy and destruction. And, as the film eventually demonstrates, with painful hilarity, they’re not wrong.
THe FAVOUriTe | Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos | Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara Fox Searchlight Pictures
OPENING THIS WEEK
BECOMING ASTRID (UNGA ASTRID) This warm-hearted biography of Astrid Lindgren
isn’t less about the making of a writer than the formation of the woman who would become
the prolific writer of beloved children’s books. Director Pernille Fischer Christensen sprinkles Becoming Astrid with moments of young Astrid Ericsson (Alba August) mesmerizing children with her tales, demonstrating her early promise. But Christensen roots Astrid’s transformation from impetuous teenager to beloved author in her experience as an unwed mother in conservative 1920s Sweden. Christensen and co-screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson use a typical extended flash- back structure, shifting from 80-year-old Astrid opening mail from young admirers (including a cassette of precocious schoolchildren asking piercing questions) to her unfolding memories. It’s punctuated by voice-over of those kids on the tape, demonstrating how profoundly they connect to the bravery and resilience in her escapist fiction. Astrid’s own maturation involves finding a balance between reason and imagi- nation, discipline and rebellion. August demon- strates the character’s defiance through phys- icality: Astrid’s hunched posture is an affront
to her mother’s buttoned-up rigidity, and she displays a heedless disregard for proper form by flailing with reckless abandon on the dance floor. Even after Astrid has traded the childhood braids that would adorn her most famous creation (Pippi Longstocking) for a daring bob, August expresses the character’s compressed rage by letting her body collapse like a petulant toddler. Becoming Astrid doesn’t document Lindgren’s storied career, ending instead when the key elements are in place, including the future husband whose name she would make famous. Christensen por- trays Lindgren as a born storyteller but delves into the vital time in her development when con- founding expectation gave way to building her own narrative. (Serena Donadoni)
CREED II For all their triumphant simplicity,
the original Rocky and the original Creed were what we used to just call “movies,” by which
I mean Hollywood underdog fables told with sincerity and an attention to life as it’s actually lived. Creed II, like Rocky II, is something less.
It’s a Rocky movie, just the latest go-round, its story more formulaic, its people less specific,
its rhythms as wheezily familiar as a workout you should have changed up weeks ago. It’s a diminishment of Creed, a dumbing down, just as Rocky II was a diminishment of Rocky. Its makers seem to think so little of viewers that they enlist, during all three of this sequel’s boxing matches, jabbering sportscasters who exhaustively explain to us every lunge and jab that we’ve
just seen. “What a turn this fight’s taken!” they exclaim. “It all feels so Shakespearean!” they insist. Imagine it: The filmmakers think you’re too dumb to follow the emotional thrust of a Rocky movie. The story concerns sort of a playdate between the kids fathered by the first generation of Rocky boxers: Creed versus the son of Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, who in Rocky IV was built up as pretty much the most devastating weapon in the Soviet nuclear arsenal. He’s the one, you may recall, who killed Creed the First in the ring. It’s all ludicrous. Still, for all that, Creed II does have a pulse. The training sequences, always the series’ highlight, again build and build and peak
F i l m
Photo by yorgos Lanthimos/20th Century Fox
Their MajesTy
Emma Stone and The Favourite’s royal women scheme deliciously
ABy Bilge eBiri
ny concern that an elegantly
mounted, star-studded period piece set during the War of Spanish Succession might have diluted Greek
surrealist Yorgos Lanthimos’ particular brand of sadism turns out to be entirely unwarranted. That becomes clear just moments in, as soon as Academy Award winner Emma Stone falls out of a horse- drawn carriage and into a giant, wet
pile of shit. Face first. If anything, The Favourite takes to scabrous new levels the Dogtooth and The Lobster director’s fascination with the absurdity of social mores and the thin line between power and humiliation.
Stone plays the impoverished, fallen- from-grace Abigail, the daughter of a one-time nobleman who lost her in a
card game. She has arrived at the court of Britain’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), seeking help from Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the monarch’s close friend and personal adviser and, it so happens, a distant relative of Abigail’s. Don’t expect any family warmth, however. The cool, calculating, judgmental Sarah regards Abigail with a mixture of bemusement and disgust. Nevertheless, she still carries some fond feelings for the girl’s father, so Abigail gets a job as a servant, and a bath.
The young arrival, however, turns out to be a quick study, finding that she can nav- igate the palace’s seemingly genteel world
of obsequiousness, self-abasement and manipulation as well as anyone. Sarah’s relationship with the queen extends also to intimate matters, and Abigail begins to discover the power of sex in matters of state — and how she herself can wield it.
Sarah may recognize Abigail as a threat but there appears to be little she can do about it. The new arrival, motivated by desperation, ambition and a kind of merciless joy, is too good at insinuating herself into power. And the queen is deeply conflicted and lost: It’s the early 18th century, there’s a war on with France, and the persistently ill, somewhat childish Anne struggles both to assert her author- ity and to preserve her kingdom and her crown.
The men around them, including the Earl of Oxford (Nicholas Hoult), are dim, preening cocks of the walk whose political machinations are no match for the per- sonal intrigues and strategic savagery of Sarah and Abigail as they struggle for the queen’s favor. Indeed, in this world where women seem to hold all the power, the men are mostly interested in hedonism and degradation. They’re also way more made up than the women: Here it’s the dudes who lumber around in high heels, ornate outfits and hilariously huge wigs; the ladies, by contrast, look gracefully modest.
Stylistically, Lanthimos continues and builds on the expressionistic imagery of
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