Review: ‘The Favourite’ is ‘artsy’ but clever

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With 10 Oscar nominations to its credit, “The Favourite” finally arrived at Rome Cinemas 8 this month to prove that the Academy really loves weird, artsy movies.

“The Favourite” is not without its bawdy charms, though said charms struggle to compete against the almost overbearing art house cinematography. The film can be funny, but it pushes its dry British wit to the extreme.

At least the screenplay can be more clever than it initially seems.

Set in the royal court of Queen Anne of England in the early 18th century, “The Favourite” focuses on Lady Sarah, the Queen’s lifelong friend and adviser, who is secretly running the country while Queen Anne suffers through several illnesses. Enter Abigail, a former noble woman who has fallen on hard times and gets a job in the kitchen.

Soon, Sarah and Abigail are competing for the Queen’s favor, with all the backstabbing and shenanigans one might expect from a royal court.

There’s no getting around the avant garde nature of the film, being almost weird for weird’s sake. The film enjoys odd camera angles, sharp cuts and a posh air. Sometimes this can be a bit too heavy-handed, as if being esoteric was the entire point of the film. It’s the sort of movie that you expect cinema snobs to get their bloomers in a twist about.

Which is a shame, because there’s a clever movie buried at the center of “The Favourite”.

All three of the lead actresses — Emma Stone, Rachel Weiss and Olivia Colman — are nominated for Oscars for their performances, and those would be well-deserved wins. All three women bring something different, yet no less sharp, to the roles of Abigail, Lady Sarah and Queen Anne, respectively. The courtly games between the three of them can get quite wicked.

The film is also rather smart in toying with the audience’s own favoritism. You don’t know who to support in any given situation. Both Abigail and Lady Sarah do gentle and nasty things to one another to curry the Queen’s favor, but their motivations and the repercussions leave the audience guessing as to who they should be rooting for. What might seem like a cruel insult at the beginning of the film later reveals itself to be just a bit of brutal honesty between friends.

In that, “The Favourite” reveals its true quality. It might be a weirdly shot film with a very dry sense of humor, but the writing is sharp, the acting is superb and it will keep you guessing through to the very end. Just be prepared for a very artsy movie.

And a lot of wigs. The film goes overboard in its foppish, old timey British wigs and outfits. It could be a shoe-in for the Oscar for Best Costume Design.

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