Film review of the absurdist comedy set in the not too distant future and starring Colin Farrell as a single man who must find a romantic partner, or face punishment by being turned into an animal of his choosing. Co-starring Rachel Weisz, it is directed and written by Yorgos Lanthimos.
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Director: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Cast & credits
Producers: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday.
Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Camera: Thimios Bakatakis
Sets: Jacqueline Abrahams
Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Wishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Léa Seydoux, Angeliki Papoulis, Ashley Jensen.
Set in the UK in the not too distant future, all single people are sent to ‘The Hotel’, run by manager Colman, in order to meet their perfect partner and fall in love. They have 45 days to do this, otherwise they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and let loose in ‘The Woods’ to eke out a new existence.
David (Farrell) is socially awkward and arrives with his older brother, who was transformed into a dog when he failed at ‘The Hotel’. David nominates to be turned into a lobster because they live for 100 years and are very fertile. Nearing his end days, he runs away into ‘The Woods’ to join the ‘Loners’, people who have rebelled against this system to live a life as staunch singletons and are hunted by the guests at ‘The Hotel’. For each loner tranquillised and returned, the guest can spend an extra day at ‘The Hotel’. David falls in love here with a Short-Sighted Woman (Weisz) and they plan to run away to the city as a real couple.
Farrell, despite much early promise and some good box office performance (Minority Report & Phone Booth, both 2002, S.W.A.T., 2003; Miami Vice, 2006) never quite became the modern day matinee idol that his sharp good looks and confident swagger should have made him into.
That’s possibly down to the dreadful headlines the then hard-living party boy left trailing in his wake (drink, drugs, a sex tape), nowadays not so much de rigueur for the L.A. set but decidedly passé.
Perhaps losing the mantle of (fleetingly) top flight heartthrob actor in his twenties made it easier to accept more challenging and offbeat roles in his thirties, in films such as In Bruges (2008) Seven Psychopaths (2012) and this, probably the weirdest, cold and also most oddly satisfying social-sex comedies, from the writer-director of Dogtooth (2009).
He certainly didn’t mind piling on the pounds to portray a middle-aged spreader who has already burst over his Y-fronts. A brave film star indeed to show himself in such an unflattering light, and this is besides his already impressive turn as the dullest and most moribund desperado. He sounds and looks like a grey civil servant in terminal decline within the four walls of his office for 20-odd years.
The sexless, production-line drawl he uses is also utilised by the rest of the cast, from Weisz’s matter-of-fact diary narration to Colman explaining the rules of the house which include a helpful demonstration of how partnering up can save one from being raped whilst out walking, all of the characters suffer vocally as well as physically and mentally from a blank, arrested development.
This bluntly genuine, formal acting is amusingly realised by the whole of this game, starry cast, with Seydoux mesmerisingly passive aggressive as the Loner leader, viciously punishing her group for flirting, but encouraging it from others to suit her solitary ends.
As an aside, I’ve often felt that sitting amongst cinema and theatre audiences during a comedy production is funnier than the scripted event. You know, how Shakespeare Snobs roar with laughter at The Taming of the Shrew. The same can be said of the audience at the screening I went to of this film; the comedy is faint and piercingly observed with the odd chuckle (a donkey in a field being shot at point blank range by an appropriately individual woman; Farrell booting a little girl in the leg to show how he lacks emotion to a possible and similar partner; Colman notes, with the utmost seriousness, that Farrell should choosing which animal he will be turned into wisely as he may couple up with the wrong species in his after-life “A camel and a hippo could never live together – that would be absurd”), but certainly not the type to make audience members laugh out loud continuously for half an hour.
The path to true love is one constructed on uneven foundations but with amusingly shaped paving slabs and the ridiculous mating rituals and romantic behaviour of humans are enlarged under Lanthimos’ cinematic microscope for a farcically exaggerated examination. ‘The Hotel’ is the most fucked up Blind Date series never produced, with Colman as a po-faced and punctilious Cilla Black, produced by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer and scripted by Dickens on hippy crack.
‘The Hotel’s rules and regulations bar masturbation, but allow bizarre and uncomfortable arousal methods from the hotel’s comely maid. Punishments for infractions include having one’s hand inserted in a toaster.
The characters maim themselves to achieve symmetry with their spouse, a symmetry reflected in the Shining like design of this ‘Overlooked’s Hotel’. (I wonder if Cilla would see this as being conducive to “a lorra, lorra laughs”?).
The characters steadfastly lie, cheat and cajole in the pursuit of a partner and despite the pure objectives of ‘The Hotel’, there is sexual jealousy, awkward approaches to other people and even more awkward courting that leads to a suicide attempt with biscuits.
Farrell and Weisz’s bizarre coded signals to each other signify their desires and longing, but they look like a comic Birds Of Paradise dancing. This culminates in that most settled and grown-up examples of togetherness – a shopping trip to IKEA.
But being single is fraught with as many ludicrous beliefs and manners: Seydoux’s sexually obtuse rules of behaviour, the fear of letting go emotionally and letting people in, putting up a cold front to protect one’s inner self (Papoulis’ cold-hearted woman), crazy behaviour that we can inflict on others and ourselves.
Being a singleton myself probably doesn’t qualify to me to properly judge on all of this, but suffice to say these are smartly drawn out magnifications of normal human behaviour.
We all put ourselves through this merry Krypton Factor of pain and abasement in the pursuit/denial of happiness…or alone-liness, as the case may be.
See the official trailer on The Lobster website.