Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review: The Lobster

Image courtesy of A24.
It's been said that there are seven basic plots in everything from literature to film - and then, there's the work of Thomas Pynchon, "Being John Malkovich" and, now, "The Lobster." If nothing else, director Yorgos Lanthimos gets credit for coming up with something so peculiar and utterly original, even if it occasionally risks reaching the point of indulgence and dragging on a little longer than it should. Regardless, it's one of the strangest films I've seen in some time and unlike virtually anything else, that is, other than Lanthimos' other works.

For those unfamiliar with the filmmaker, he burst onto the scene with 2010's utterly deranged "Dogtooth," which cracked my top 20 that year and has to be the most unusual film to ever get nominated for an Academy Award (in the foreign film selection). His follow-up, "Alps," remained true to the director's style, but was less successful.

"The Lobster," which is the director's first foray into English, features a continental cast and one of the most delirious premises of recent years. Set at some point in the future, human beings are required by law to have significant others and those who fail to do so are transferred to a hotel, where they have 45 days to fall in love or get turned into an animal and set free in the woods.

Colin Farrell plays a sad sack named David who has arrived at the hotel shortly after being dumped by his wife for another man. There, he befriends a couple other bachelors, including John C. Reilly's lisping American and Ben Whishaw's determined and limping Brit. David's attempts to meet women at the hotel mostly fail - there's a young woman with constant nosebleeds whom Whishaw's character manages to snag through subterfuge and another woman whom the hotel's guests refer to as "heartless," although that ends up being an understatement.

As the time draws close for David's transformation into the titular animal - the hotel's staff appears impressed that he chose to be a crustacean, whereas most guests want to be dogs - he decides to make a run for it and ends up in the woods, where a rebellion is brewing. The catch is that the revolutionaries have imposed their own set of laws that stipulate its members must remain single and its leader - played by a steely Lea Seydoux - is strict on enforcing them.

And naturally - since this is a comedy - David finds himself attracted to and increasingly falling in love with a fellow comrade played by Rachel Weisz (most of the characters are not given names) and the two of them devise a system of sign language that allows them to express themselves without being caught.

As I've mentioned, "The Lobster" is an extremely odd film, almost to the point of being precious, but its darker elements and deadpan humor keep it on the right track. My one quibble is that the film doesn't know when to end and a plotline involving David and Weisz's character planning to flee their group gets dragged out a little too long. The film ends on a note that could be read as either despairing or absurdist, but is - if nothing else - certainly open ended.

The film makes great use of its landscapes, whether it's the woods where David takes up with the rebellion or the spare but stylish grounds of the hotel. Lanthimos' film is filled with great visual gags - such as a final farewell between a character and a friend who has been turned into a pony and a scene of relative seriousness interrupted by a wandering camel in the background.

If "The Lobster" doesn't quite relay any greater truths amid its weirdness - as Spike Jonze's dazzling "Being John Malkovich" did - it's still a unique vision that is frequently hilarious and just as often melancholy. Its depiction of loneliness often feels spot-on as does its portrayal of the awkwardness involved in burgeoning romantic relationships. For me, "Dogtooth" is Lanthimos' finest work to date, but "The Lobster" is well worth a view, especially for fans of esoteric, absurdist or offbeat cinema.

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