Skip to main content

I'm sure that horse was once a weak and cowardly man just like you.

The Lobster
(2015)

(SPOILERS) A film for which the word “quirky” could have been designed. The Lobster fair old quivers with quirk, but unfortunately its idiosyncratic, deadpan satire of relationship mores isn’t entirely sustained across its two-hour length. And yet, despite its sometimes overpowering affectation powering a slender premise, the sort of thing that would probably make for a much better short film than a feature, I found Yorgos Lanthimos’ English language feature debut fitfully engrossing. That’s not to say it’s particularly clever or insightful – its points are really rather crude – but it has an infectiously pitch black sense of humour, and boasts Colin Farrell in particularly fine form.


Admittedly, I was half hoping for something more than its most obvious agenda, comprising an offbeat dissection of societal and personal attitudes to relationships as they encompass themes of conformity and expectation. At times, The Lobster comes self-consciously close to exclaiming “I’m mental, I am”, in danger of unravelling its entire conceit. Mostly, though, its wilful battiness tends to win out.


Farrell’s David, having been dumped for another man by his wife, is consigned to a hotel with a company of socially unacceptable singles, where he has 45 days to pair up or he will be transformed into an animal of his choice (the crustacean of the title). In order to successfully couple they must find a common characteristic or interest that marks them as a match, which leads to various ruses by way of attempting to hoodwink an intended and avoid a bestial demise.


None of the characters are named aside from David, so Ashley Jensen (of Extras; she’s suffered enough, having to regularly perform opposite Gervais) is the Biscuit Woman, while Jon C Reilly is the Lisping Man, Ben Whishaw the Limping Man, and Angeliki Papoulia the Heartless Woman. The latter is particularly adept at delaying transformation through success in regular hunting parties for loaners (for which they receive additional days suspending their sentence). She’s also central to one of the most malignantly amusing passages, as David attempts to “woo” her by pretending to be entirely unaffected and completely disinterested in the welfare of others.


Limping Man has, through the subterfuge of portraying the same malady as Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), forestalled an animal fate, but things aren’t going very well between them so they have been given a daughter (in an example of how obvious the picture’s nudges can be, it is noted of problem relationships, “That usually helps a lot”). David kicks her, advising “Now you’ll have a limp and be more like your father”. Subsequently, the sequence where the Heartless Woman tests David’s resolve is much less funny.


The loners are just as bad, as one would expect from a system inviting polarities. They encourage masturbation but are punitive towards intimate fraternisation, and the unsubtle gags come thick and fast (or maybe that should be slow and congealed?); “We dance by ourselves. That’s why we only play electronic music” advises Léa Seydoux’s psycho leader.


Rachel Weisz’s Short Sighted Woman has something in common with David (short-sightedness), who has fled the hotel, and they embark on an illicit, covert relationship. The loners’ punishments include the bizarre (a hot boiled egg under the armpit) and the horrifically cruel, just like the hoteliers (where Lisping Man has his fingers jammed in a toaster). 


Particularly so is Short Sighted Woman’s fate, compounded by David’s lack of conviction when it comes to the crunch; is this a lesson in essential selfishness overriding any fanciful ideas of “meant to be”? Is that why David is the only named character, because he’s important only unto himself (his brother, now a dumb animal its easier to care for unconditionally, is also named)? Like us all (as evidenced by the Hotel Manager’s – Olivia Coleman – husband when faced with an ultimatum).


If that's the case, it’s a particularly grim sentiment, but while The Lobster is caustic and acute in places, in the lies we tell and the lies we’re told, its stylised wackiness also renders it rather glib. And it can’t be coincidental that its best moments are where it embraces its own twisted silliness rather than tries to massage its message (“There’s blood and biscuits everywhere”, observes Heartless Woman of the mess Biscuit Woman has made of the paving). Following the escape to the woods, it begins to plod, losing its antic energy and becoming merely diverting.


The performances are as key to Lanthimos’ tone as Thimios Bakatakis’ precise cinematography. Farrell is always at his best when playing against his star persona (which has rarely worked out well box office-wise anyway), and here he’s both physically unimposing (sporting a sizeable gut and spectacles) and exhibits that slightly desperate, slightly maudlin facility for humour that has served him so well in his pairings with Martin McDonagh.  


Lanthimos' film is ultimately stronger for its visual absurdity than its content, since he has tried to string together a series of jottings that leave it less than coherent. That’s partly why it would have made a better short; the further The Lobster extends itself, the less beguiling it becomes. It never quite collapses in on itself, but draws attention to its own thinness, in a way, say, Charlie Kauffman’s existential musings don’t (mainly because he has no shortage of angsty ruminations to cover). Good but no Thermidor, then. As for the poster design (the ones below). I wouldn’t go see that movie.





Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.