by Alan Yudman

This is one of those, “whoa, how did I miss this?!?” movies. I thought it was about a long-suffering wife who had had enough of her husband. Guess I should read the descriptions and/or reviews more closely. THE WIFE is a very good movie that has lots of twists, drama and an Oscar nominated performance by Glenn Close.

The long-suffering wife part is kind of correct. But, it is a much deeper problem than that. Jonathan Pryce is a novelist in the mold of Phillip Roth. A New Yorker who writes about the American experience from a Jewish perspective. Spoiler alert… he’s not Phillip Roth. The movie opens with Joseph Castleman (Pryce) and his wife Joan (Close) waiting for a phone call from the Nobel Committee. The call comes. He’s won the Literature Prize and the two celebrate by jumping up and down on their bed.

The movie takes off from there. They travel to Stockholm with their son, David, who is a budding author who doesn’t get the recognition or love from his father he feels he deserves. He does get that support from his Mom. While jetting across the Atlantic on the Concorde, we are introduced to Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) who is campaigning to write Joseph’s biography.

There is a tension between the couple that you really cannot put your finger on. Then we get the drip, drip, drip of a stunning reveal. Screenwriter Jane Anderson and Director Bjorn Runge go back in time to show us how young Joe (Harry Lloyd) and Joan (Close’s daughter Annie Starke) first met and developed their relationship. He was married.. Joan was the other woman who stole him away. The reason may have been love, but there is also another reason which is hinted at and not confirmed until late in the film.

The film plays out like a mystery. There are clues to the “crime” dropped throughout the film. Bone’s talk with Joan over drinks in a bar where he reveals he knows she’s a great writer. Joe doesn’t remember the name of one of his characters when it is dropped at a Nobel event. The allusion to Joe’s many affairs. The way he dismisses his son’s talent, yet Joan believes he has “it”. Joe seems to be running from or dismissing the truth. And we find that is exactly what is happening.

The cast is wonderful, but none more wonderful than Close. She exhibits a control that makes you believe she is the doting wife, but you can see she knows something and that is bubbling under the surface. Then when it finally comes to a head at the Nobel dinner, she doesn’t say a word, but you can see it in her eyes, her face, her manner. It is a perfect performance and it would not surprise me if she finally wins her first Oscar.

Pryce is solid as usual. Max Irons as the aggrieved son is equally good. Slater’s performance surprised me. He is a sleazy biographer who is worming his way into the good graces of Joan and David using fake empathy. He’s slimy and terrific.

THE WIFE came and went and is now only getting a second look because of Close’s nomination and wins at The Golden Globes and the SAG awards. But that undersells how good the wife really is. Maybe Close elevates it, but who cares? A good movie is a good movie. And THE WIFE is worth your time.


by Alan Yudman

I first became aware of Debra Granik with the remarkable WINTER’S BONE. It put Jennifer Lawrence on my radar, and gave her the cred she would use to become one of the best actresses in the world. She was nominated for a best actress Oscar in 2011 based on her remarkable performance. I, like many others, became enthralled with Lawrence almost to the exclusion of Granik. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe Granik’s dark, yet inspiring story about a teenager trying to track down her father while keeping her family together didn’t win more awards (THE KING’S SPEECH won best picture, Natalie Portman won best actress for BLACK SWAN, and Aaron Sorkin won for adapted screenplay for THE SOCIAL NETWORK). Then Granik all but disappeared.

This year she is back with another incredible movie, LEAVE NO TRACE. It is another moving story about being an outsider and trying to live life on your own terms. Ben Foster is Will, the father of a 13-year-old daughter. They are living off the grid in an urban forest just outside of Portland, Oregon. It is the only way he can keep his head together. Will is a veteran with PTSD, who wants little to do with society. He believes he can give his daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) a better life off the grid. They are happy until a chance encounter with jogger alerts authorities to their presence and suddenly they two are thrown into the system.

The film deals with how the two of them adapt. Will tries to fit in, but he cannot do it. Tom on the other hand is making a more serious effort. She starts to make a friend. She seems to be adapting at a slow pace. Then, Will decides they must leave. They are already too integrated into society for his liking, and for his sanity. They leave again in the middle of the night. This time something is different. Tom doesn’t seem to understand it. They wind up in southern Washington.. in a cold and rainy forest that almost kills both of them.

Will is constantly running from his illness. He has episodes in the middle of the night. He is in denial that his lifestyle can save him and he is dragging his daughter along for the bleak ride. But, Tom loves her father too much to abandon him until she realizes that she cannot live his life. She cannot survive. Despite their love, she must let him follow his own path. Even their love cannot fix him. That all plays out in a heart wrenching final scene.

Granik’s story is quiet and powerful. It speaks to love and desperation. It acknowledges that love may not be enough to solve every problem. Granik’s screenplay and direction along with cinematography by Michael McDonough are perfect. It is a postcard for the beauty and danger of the Pacific Northwest. Granik’s camera spends a lot of time on Tom’s reactions and Will’s pain. It is gorgeous and effective. But, it wouldn’t work without two outstanding performances. Foster deserves an Oscar nomination that he may miss out on because of the timing of LEAVE NO TRACE’s release. Out of sight, out of mind. This is the first major American role for Thomasin McKenzie, a young actress from New Zealand. She is incredible. Maybe Granik is the “young actress whisperer”. She has identified a young talent (McKenzie is 18), who definitely has a bright future.

Granik has made only 2 other fictional movies (DOWN TO THE BONE and WINTER’S BONE) before this. So when she decides to grace us with another example of her amazing storytelling ability, Hollywood should stand up and take notice. I wish she would give us more. But maybe we should just be thankful for the gifts she delivers every so often. Because, LEAVE NO TRACE is definitely one of the best films of 2018.


by Alan Yudman

Maybe it’s still too fresh in our minds and hearts. Dick Cheney’s evil reign as Vice President of the United States still gives me agita. I can’t think of the horrible things he did that have ruined several parts of this country without my blood boiling. But that is a debate and a post for another blog. So, how can you tell his story without sending the audience screaming from the theater in anger. The answer is you can’t, and Adam McKay doesn’t even try in VICE. Instead he embraces it.

The title is most likely an intentional double entendre. He was the Vice President who’s vice was the accumulation of power. And Cheney would do just about anything to achieve his goal. Lies, corruption, twisting interpretations of the Constitution were not left out of his toolbox.

The other challenge was Cheney is a deeply private man. The documents relating to his time as Veep are few because he conspired to not leave a paper trail. McKay acknowledges this difficulty right off the bat in an opening title card.

The casting of Christian Bale as Cheney is inspired. Bale went all in. He gained 45 pounds and shaved his head. He also sat in makeup for hours every day to complete the transformation and it works perfectly. He also has Cheney’s stilted growl down perfectly. But McKay doesn’t just paint a picture of evil. Cheney is a screwup at first before he is mentored by Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell), then a congressman from Illinois. That’s where he learns his craft. He shows Cheney as a loving husband and father who truly cares about his daughters Liz and Mary. He also adores his wife Lynne (Amy Adams). But even that love can be compromised for what he perceives as a greater good (not good.. really, REALLY evil).

This is not a straight ahead biopic. McKay jumps back and forth in time. Sometimes it is a bit confusing, but once you’re on board you figure out what’s going on. Fishing is also a big thing in the movie. McKay used Barton Gellman’s biography “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency” as source material, so Cheney’s love of fishing is a theme throughout. There is also something very Shakespearean about the story. The naked grab for power at all costs, while attempting to balance that with love of family. McKay goes all in on that too. There is one scene where Cheney and Lynne are discussing whether he should accept George W. Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) offer to be Vice President. McKay has written near perfect Shakespeare-style dialogue as Dick and Lynne debate power versus love while lying in bed. It was so good I went searching for which play it is from. It isn’t from any. McKay made it up. Genius. Then at the end Cheney turns to the audience to justify his evil. Man, it was chilling.

The cast is brilliant. In addition to Bale, Adams shines as the loving yet power hungry Lynne, constantly pushing her husband to achieve more. Carrell is a genius choice for the gruff, blunt and sometimes obscene Rumsfeld. Rockwell doesn’t go too far into parody for Bush, which is a brilliant choice. Eddie Marsan is the spitting image of Paul Wolfowitz. Justin Kirk (Scooter Libby), Alison Pill (Mary), Lily Rabe (Liz), Don McManus (attorney/adviser David Addington) are all spectacular. Even seeming stunt casting like Tyler Perry as Colin Powell works great.

There is a lot of comedy in the film. Can you make heart attacks funny? Yes. Yes you can.. each one of Cheney’s is played for a chuckle. McKay makes a lot of choices that seem weird, but in the end they all come together. Jesse Plemons is the narrator who we actually see and plays a pivotal role that I won’t spoil. Then as the credits roll you find you’ve put it all together and see the line from all of this evil-doing to where we are today and how it could happen again and again with the wrong person in the White House.

McKay won an Oscar for adapted screenplay for THE BIG SHORT. Maybe he should win another for this inspired film that will have you thinking for days after you’ve seen it.


by Alan Yudman

I was recently raving to a friend about THE DEATH OF STALIN after having seen it on cable. That makes it about 6 times that I have seen this marvelous satire from the brilliant and deranged mind of Armando Iannucci. So I decide to check out my review and.. GASP… I realize I never posted a review! Well, time to fix that lapse.

I am a huge fan of Iannucci’s previous work. Everyone loves VEEP, and while it’s still good, it is just a smidge less after Iannucci left after 2015. But that wasn’t my introduction to him. I first became aware of his particular brand of satire with IN THE LOOP (and looking back on my 2009 review, boy did I get that one wrong). That Academy Award nominated screenplay was bitingly funny and a poignant look at the buffoonery of the British and American governments. After diving a bit deeper I realized Peter Capaldi’s character, Malcolm, originated in the British series THE THICK OF IT. I have been able to catch a few of those, but they are incredibly hard to find. Then I realized that he helped create Steve Coogan’s legendary Alan Partridge. So yeah, I am totally in the tank for Armando Iannucci.

That brings us to THE DEATH OF STALIN. The movie is set in Moscow and at Stalins dacha just after the dictator’s death. What we witness is the struggle for power in the days after. This is about 10 levels of hilarious. There are not many Russians in the cast. Olga Kurylenko (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) is a concert pianist, and other than a few other tiny roles, that’s it. The actors are mostly British and American. There is no attempt at accurate accents and it doesn’t matter. Iannucci isn’t going for historical accuracy. He’s going for laughs and biting satire.

Here’s a list of who plays whom.

Steve Buscemi: Nikita Khrushchev

Jeffrey Tambor: Georgy Malenkov

Michael Palin: Vyacheslav Molotov

Simon Russell Beale: Lavrenti Beria

Andrea Riseborough: Svetlana Stalina

Rupert Friend: Vasily Stalin

Jason Isaacs: Field Marshal Zhukov

So, yeah. This is an amazing cast. There are also short appearances by Paddy Considine and Tom Brooke early in the movie that set the comedic stage.

The power struggle pits Khrushchev against Beria. Both are trying to manipulate the rules to seize power. Beale is head of the NKVD, the secret police. Both he and Khrushchev are part of the Government’s and Party’s inner power circle. So the way they try to take advantage of situations are inspired and hilarious.

Everyone is fabulous, but the standouts are Buscemi, Beale and Isaacs. Beale is a legendary British stage actor who has a few movie and TV credits. He is incredible in this. The joy he takes at torturing and using people is amazing. Buscemi is at peak Buscemi. And Isaacs’ menacing, brutal military leader is almost my favorite part of the movie.

This is so layered with not so subtle jabs at American and British politics, you have to watch it at least twice to catch everything. I don’t think that’s bad. Iannucci gets it all in brilliantly and the movie just gets better with each viewing. I keep spotting things I missed the first, second or third time. The parallels to America’s current political culture may not be intentional, but they are certainly there.

Iannucci can make you think about things while making you laugh out loud. Isn’t that what great satire is about? I think it is and THE DEATH OF STALIN is a prime example of a great filmmaker at his peak.

Sent from my iPad


by Alan Yudman

This has been the year of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. First was the documentary RBG (review to come.. I’ll admit I have not yet seen it, but I have purchased it). Now a fictionalized story about her first case fighting for equal rights for women. But ON THE BASIS OF SEX is more than just a movie filled with legal briefs and courtroom arguments. It is also a love story about Ruth and her husband Martin. In fact, sometimes Marty comes off looking better than Ruth. But that is a shallow assessment of what is happening here.

The film tracks Ginsburg’s life from her first day at Harvard to the case that put her on the map as a tough litigator. Harvard Law School is rightly portrayed as a boys club that women should feel privileged to join. And their numbers are grotesquely small at this point in history. But Ruth Ginsburg is tough enough to succeed. She also has to overcome a life-threatening health scare for her husband. Despite her family obligations, she rises to the top of her class. Marty is ahead of Ruth at Harvard and when he gets a job in New York, Ruth asks the dean (Sam Waterston) to finish classes at Columbia. He refuses and his argument foreshadows Ruth’s fight for equal rights. So Ruth finishes classes at Columbia. But, she cannot find a law firm that will hire her because she is a wife and mother. More foreshadowing. So she takes a job teaching at Rutgers. Ruth is unfulfilled. She sees herself as settling and pushed to the background. Marty sees this and suggests a gender discrimination case she might take on. It involves a man who was denied a tax deduction for dependent care for his invalid mother. The tax code allowed a woman to take the deduction, but not a man. Ruth sees it as the perfect case for her and Marty to argue together.

Two-thirds of the film involves the Moritz case and how Ruth fights to get the case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. But it also shows her struggle with discrimination and how her unflinching dedication to the precision of the law puts a strain on her relationship with her teenage daughter. It also depicts a passionate and touching love story. Marty is truly ahead of his time in the way he supports Ruth’s passion. They are equals in their marriage. No one is more important. It is a true partnership born out of love and respect. That message is nearly as powerful as Ruth’s fight against discrimination.

Felicity Jones is wonderful as Ruth. She nails the toughness and sensitivity. It is a technically wonderful performance. Her accent is perfect. Some may think that it slips between Brooklyn, generic American and New York. But that seems intentional. She is trying to hide her Brooklyn/Jewishness to break down barriers. But when passions rise, Jones allows the accent to slip back into Brooklyn. It is amazingly skillful. Armie Hammer is fantastic as Marty. His care and love for Ruth are evident. He is fast becoming one of my favorite actors . Justin Theroux is also very good as Mel Wulf, the bombastic head of the ACLU who Ruth must convince to join her cause. There are more great supporting performances from Waterston and Stephen Root, who lights up a screen whenever he appears.

The screenplay was written by Daniel Stiepleman. He has the advantage of knowing the subject very well. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is his aunt. Marty Ginsburg is his mother’s oldest brother. Stiepleman tells the story that Aunt Ruth read the draft of the screenplay like she was reading a legal brief. I think that’s a fantastic image. His knowledge of the subject makes it feel very personal. Mimi Leder brings a much needed woman’s perspective to the storytelling and draws a vivid portrait of Ruth’s struggle in the way she frames Jones in every shot. That is especially evident in the climactic scene in a Denver appellate courtroom.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX depicts an underdog’s fight for justice. It is a lawyer version of ROCKY. Ruth is punching up at the glass ceiling instead of taking on frozen cows. It is powerful and inspiring and a story of optimism and a celebration of a truly remarkable person (I was going to say woman.. but I think Justice Ginsburg would view that as discrimination).



by Alan Yudman

Life is crazy. Living in the USA has become a daily exercise in gripping one’s sanity tightly so as not to let go an fall into the abyss of crazy. So a distraction from all the crazy is always welcome. MARY POPPINS RETURNS is the distraction we all need.

Just in case you were not 100% sure, this is not a remake. Rather, it is a continuation of the story. Some 30 years later, Jane and Michael Banks are grown. Jane is a union organizer. Michael is a widower with three small children. And they are about to lose their family home. They know they can get the money together if only they can find the stock certificate their father George left them and use it to pay off a loan Michael had to take out against the house when his wife was dying. Alas, they cannot find it.

Into this desperate situation floats Mary Poppins. She brings her own brand of quirky wisdom to motivate the children and bring hope to the situation.

The story logically follows the original and is pulled off to great effect by director Rob Marshall, screenwriters Marshall, David Magee and John DeLuca. The music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is fun and fits right into the story. The integration of animation and live action are fantastic and recall the original in all the best ways.

How do you replace Julie Andrews? The answer is you really cannot. But if you have to, Emily Blunt is a fantastic replacement. Yes she can sing. Yes she can dance. Andrew’s Mary was a bit more “sunny” in disposition. Blunt feels a bit more direct and stern. The eternal optimism and the ability to see the best in everyone and everything is there. Blunt is a marvelous actress, so any question about whether she could pull this off should never have been considered. So shut up doubters. Emily is awesome!

I guess chimney sweeps aren’t a thing anymore, so Lin-Manuel Miranda is Jack, a “leery”.. one of the men who turn the gas lamps on and off around London. He steps into the Dick Van Dyke slot very ably. Miranda pops off the screen whenever he appears. His song and dance credentials were honed on Broadway, so this is a natural fit for him. Ben Whishaw as the grown Michael is another great young actor who completely knocks it out of the park. His touch song to his late wife early in the film is moving. He can sing well enough to pull it off and his ability as an actor covers up any other minor deficiencies. Emily Mortimer as the grown-up Jane is also great. She’s bubbly and enthusiastic, hitting all the right notes (even the one time she sings). The three children are just great. Pixie Davies (Anabel), Nathanael Saleh (John) and the adorable Joel Dawson (Georgie) are perfect foils/companions for Mary.

Colin Firth is a decent villain. Meryl Streep has a great, fun scene singing with Mary, Jack and the children. Dick Van Dyke’s appearance is heartwarming (no he doesn’t play Bert). And seeing royalty like Angela Lansbury is a treat.

Sometimes the film feels like it is trying just a bit too hard to mirror the original. But the winning performances and the upbeat music and hopeful story overcome any of those extremely minor criticisms. If you are looking to put a smile on your face and leave the theater with a pep in your step, MARY POPPINS RETURNS is just the spoonful of sugar you need to help the medicine of life go down smoothly (sorry, couldn’t resist just one).



by Alan Yudman

ROMA is piling up the awards by the truckload. Critics love it. And there is an ongoing debate about whether or not you “must” watch it on the big screen to fully appreciate it. There is no doubt Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical film is an artistic achievement. And I appreciate its art, but I’m not sure it worked for me as well as it has for others.

The film chronicles a year in the life of a family in Mexico City during a time of political upheaval. It centers on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid for a seemingly well-to-do family. At the beginning the father leaves on a business trip to Ottawa (a convenient lie the mother continues to tell their four children to keep up appearances). Cleo grounds the family by just being there as the stable element while the mother seems to slowly fall apart before putting herself back together. She gets herself pregnant early on and has to turn to the mother for help, who makes sure she gets proper medical care.

All of this happens as a youth revolt swirls around the family (if you don’t know the history, here is a Time Magazine article that can give context). The father of Cleo’s baby is a member of an insurgent movement. Characters talk about the political unrest occurring throughout the country. It’s mostly at the fringes of the family, but sometimes it intrudes as when Cleo and the family’s grandmother go to buy a crib and they have to navigate protesters, then gun-wielding insurgents who descend on the store and shoot some innocent shoppers. There are also seeming random natural disasters. An earthquake (I know, by definition random), a brush fire while they are visiting friends for New Year’s Eve (maybe Christmas, it wasn’t really clear to me). At one point, Cleo goes to confront the father of her baby at a camp where he is training with other young revolutionaries. Leading the training is a man named Professor Zovek who was apparently a real person. He is kind of a combo cult-leader/revolutionary/Jack La Lane. He is really quite odd, but engrossing.

I’m sorry, but maybe I just don’t get it. Just like in any year, things happen.. but they also don’t happen. That’s what life is like. Sometimes it is thrilling, sometimes boring. This was more boring than thrilling. There are compelling moments. I suppose that is the point. But for a movie? I don’t know. I don’t mind movies that are thoughtful, or take time getting to where they want to go. But this movie dances around the edges too much. It never really made me “feel” anything until a couple of scenes near the end.

Since movies are a medium that taps most of an audiences senses, let’s talk about the visual and sound. Man, this is an absolutely gorgeous film. The cinematography (by Cuarón himself) is simply spectacular. The shades of black and white that dance across faces and buildings. The way the smoke rises as the fire is first spotted. The dustiness of the revolutionary training camp. The scene on the beach near the end where Cleo saves two of the children. It is all just gorgeous. And I didn’t see it on the big screen. I watched it on Netflix (yes, it’s streaming there since the company produced the movie), but didn’t feel like I was missing anything. If you watch it at home, watch it on a flatscreen TV not your computer. That, I think, would ruin the movie. The sound design complements the visuals perfectly. It is a technically and artistically beautiful film.

That couldn’t save it for me. I get what it is saying. I understand the story Cuarón is telling. It just didn’t move me like other films did this year. Great movie? Absolutely. Worthy of the praise being heaped on it? Maybe. Some have called ROMA “groundbreaking”. Not for me. It is absolutely worth seeing. But, it’s not the best movie I’ve seen in 2018.



by Alan Yudman

While most movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been wonderfully entertaining, they are missing something. They turn the comic book character into a real life person and as good as Marvel is at doing that, something always feels like it’s missing. No amount of CGI or green screen work can truly capture the feel of a comic book. With SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, problem most definitely solved.

The tone, the look, the characterizations are all perfect. You feel like you dove right into an edition of Spider-Man. But it’s not just the completely fabulous animation. The story is compelling. It is yet another Spider-Man origin story, but it is completely different.

This is not Peter Parker’s origin, it is Miles Morales’ story. How he became the hero. Now, the movie does start with Peter Parker’s story.. but it is more of a quick re-cap, completely with acknowledgment of Spidey’s sometimes dicey film history (complete with a nod to the weird Tobey Maguire strut down a New York City Street in Spider-Man 3). Then that quick re-cap becomes a “thing” as the story evolves. The story… wow. Totally compelling. Miles, like Peter, is a smart kid. He’s at a magnet school in Brooklyn, but he is having trouble fitting in. His police officer father is demanding, but Miles has more of a connection with his Uncle Aaron who has a dicey relationship with his brother. That leads Miles, the graffiti artist to a subway tunnel where he is bitten by the spider that will change his life. It’s hard to describe the web of the plot without the visuals. But it totally works when you watch it. And that’s kinda important in a movie.

Even the villains are acting out of a sense of heart and purpose. Kingpin is trying to get back his dead wife and son by opening a portal to a parallel reality. That event dumps a bunch of Spider-Men into Miles’ timeline. They must team up to stop Kingpin and save the world. But no one thinks Miles is ready, and he must find his own way to use his unique powers to save the day.

The movie has a ton of heart and treads on Pixar’s territory by delivering a message while being fabulously entertaining. In many ways it does it better than a bunch of Pixar movies. The animation and feel draw you into the message without bludgeoning you with it. It is entirely compelling.

And the voice cast.. more WOW! Shameik Moore is fantastic as Miles. If it was just him it would be excellent. But the rest of the cast is a smash hit. Bryan Tyree Henry is Miles’ father. Mahershala Ali is Uncle Aaron. Liev Schreiber is Kingpin. Kathryn Hahn is Doc Ock. Lily Tomlin is Aunt May. And the Spider-Men from the other realities are Hailee Steinfeld, John Mulaney Kimiko Glenn and Jake Johnson. Spider-Man from Miles’ reality is Chris Pine. Johnson’s sad Peter Parker is the version we have needed for all of time. Pine’s is more “heroic”. Johnson’s is real. There is not a bad performance in the bunch. SAG or the Academy needs to acknowledge the talent it takes to do this kind of acting.

The adaptation by Phil Lord is spot on. The direction by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman could not be better. See it in 3D.. it’s really the only way. The soundtrack.. the score.. there is nothing not great about this.

Here is my wish… that Marvel and DC use this as an example of what this genre of movie can be. Forget the live action version of these movies. With Avengers: Endgame coming next year, it is the perfect time to shift. These comic book characters deserve this treatment. And so do their fans. It is really the only true way to bring these stories to the big screen. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE should be seismic shift for Hollywood. Let’s hope it is. They have great power to do the right thing.. will they take the responsibility and do it? Here’s hoping they do.



by Alan Yudman

Costume dramas are staples of Hollywood, especially during award season. At the end of 2018 we have two to chose from, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS and THE FAVOURITE. I have yet to see MARY, so I cannot speak about that yet. But I imaging those two movies could not be more different. Judging from the trailer, MARY seems quite traditional. There is nothing traditional about THE FAVOURITE other than the costumes.

I would describe THE FAVOURITE as an 18th century political sex comedy. Queen Anne is a sickly, insecure ruler. She is manipulated by Lady Sarah Marlborough who is running the country. But the manipulation isn’t only to achieve power for Lady Sarah. She seems to truly love the Queen. They apparently had been friends long before Anne became Queen. And that friendship became a secret love affair. But into this strange relationship steps Abigail, whose father’s gambling caused the family to lose status and forced her to seek employment as a scullery maid. But as with most characters in this story, she has ulterior motives. Eventually she schemes her way into the Queen’s inner circle and replaces Sarah in the Queen’s life.

That’s the basic outline of the film, but Yorgos Lanthimos takes that and creates a funny, bizarre world. Sex isn’t sexy, it is used as a means to exercise power and in a few instances love. The cinematography is unique in a good way. The colors are spare except for splashes of bright red. The costumes are fantastic, but mostly shades of black and white. The sound mixing is wonderful.. the clicking of heels on wooden floors is almost a character unto itself.

But what makes this movie soar is the three lead actors. Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is vulnerable at first, and grows more powerful as her story progresses. She is never fully authoritarian, but she comes close. People seem to bow to her because of her position, not because of any real fear. Colman transforms physically through the movie. She is never fully healthy, but she is fairly falling apart by the end, which is a nice juxtaposition with her increasing self confidence. I can see why Colman is mentioned as a Best Actress contender. It is a remarkable performance.

Rachel Weisz also evolves from secure and powerful to vulnerable and resigned. Try as she might she cannot out maneuver Abigail. She doesn’t suffer any of the fools in the Queen’s court gladly and in the end that may be her undoing. But she isn’t one dimensional. She really loves Anne and their relationship is at times very sweet and loving.

Emma Stone doesn’t appear to evolve. Her deferential innocence is a masque she puts on to achieve the goal of regaining status and power. Stone’s reputation for playing the ingenue or innocent serves her well here. Because she takes a turn we haven’t seen her play before. And it really shows off her ability. This is a role she needed to grow as an actor, at least in the eyes of the audience. Abigail’s single-minded aspiration drives her and the movie forward. She marries an army officer, which re-establishes her in the court. But it is obviously a marriage of convenience. Oh and Stone’s British accent never slips. It’s quite a performance.

it’s hard to categorize one of Colman, Weisz or Stone as the lead actor. I know Colman received the Golden Globe nomination as the lead and Weisz and Stone as supporting, but that could easily be reshuffled. There are essentially three leads and it is impossible to say one is better than the other.

I cannot end before mentioning rabbits. Queen Anne has 17 rabbits. One for each child she conceived but who died either after birth or in utero. It’s something to use a rabbit, which was historically killed in a pregnancy test, to stand in for a dead child. I don’t think that’s an accident. It just adds to the bizarreness.

This movie could have been much worse, but the performances of Colman, Stone and Weisz should make THE FAVOURITE a favorite for a castle full of Oscar nominations.