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…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
(SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell, as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick.

Evil Bill: First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted: Then we take over their lives.
My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reeves in the summer of ’91 (inflatio…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers 4.1:The Town of No Return
The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.

This is the water, and this is the well.

Twin Peaks 3.8: Gotta light?
(SPOILERS) Er…. Okay. An episode presumably conceived by Lynch and Frost entirely to stymie recap artists. Which is laudable in itself, I guess. It’s probably the closest the director has come to all-out Eraserhead weirdness since, only substituting fear of the bomb for fatherhood. Fortunately, unlike that movie – which I don’t really care for too much, even knowing that makes me a not-we when it comes to Lynchdom – I found Gotta light? mostly engrossing and only a little dull (these ratios are just about reversed with Eraserhead). It probably helps too that it’s a good 20 minutes shorter.

And this isn’t going to be too long either. Not because I think the episode is impenetrable – I suspect most people have roughly the same the gist as to what’s going on, give or take – but because there are so many times you can ejaculate “anti-Malick” as a description of what’s going on here, or hyperbolise that Lynch has just changed the face of television.

Evil Coop g…

A man who doesn't love easily loves too much.

Twin Peaks 2.17: Wounds and Scars
The real problem with the last half of the second season, now it has the engine of Windom Earle running things, is that there isn’t really anything else that’s much cop. Last week, Audrey’s love interest was introduced: your friend Billy Zane (he’s a cool dude). This week, Coop’s arrives: Annie Blackburn. On top of that, the desperation that is the Miss Twin Peaks Contest makes itself known.

I probably don’t mind the Contest as much as some, however. It’s undoubtedly lame, but it at least projects the season towards some kind of climax. If nothing else, it resolutely highlights Lynch’s abiding fascination with pretty girls, as if that needed any further attention drawn to it.

Special Agent Cooper: You made it just right, Annie.
I also like Heather Graham’s Annie. Whatever the behind the scenes wrangles that led to the disintegration of the Coop-Audrey romance (and it will be rather unceremoniously deconstructed in later Coop comments), it’s certainly the …

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …