Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lobster It Up

Another movie I learned of from critics' "best of the year so far" lists was The Lobster, a darling of the independent circuit with a bizarre premise.

The dystopian world of the near-future gives single people 45 days to find a romantic partner. If they fail to do so, they are turned into an animal of their choice. The story follows a man named David through this process as he checks into a "hotel" (a strange hybrid of clinic/senior home/singles retreat), resigned in advance to his certain failure and perhaps already looking forward to being turned into a lobster.

This movie feels like the result of someone trying to out-Kaufman Charlie Kaufman, the writer behind such bizarre (but usually entertaining) films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The "someone" in this case is a Greek filmmaker named Yorgos Lanthimos, whose other major touchstone here seems to be absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett. There's certainly a clear vision here. It's just not one that held my interest for a full two hours.

The Lobster is an aggressively quirky film. Every performer acts with some degree of deliberate malaise. The narrative spends no time establishing anything; you just have to take on faith that the world works as these characters say it does, because it's rarely demonstrated on screen. And don't wait for a deeper meaning to reveal itself; the movie doesn't strike me as interested in allegory or subtext either.

Bringing convincing seriousness (and therefore, dry humor) to the movie is a cast of solid actors. Colin Farrell stars as David. The other characters (all without specific names) include Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and a number of interesting but lesser known British actors.

For a while, the concoction totally works. I laughed out loud several times during the first half hour as the parade of strange marched before me. For the next half hour, I remained engaged as I tried to anticipate where the story was going. But there was another hour beyond that where I just grew increasingly tired of the whole thing. I can't fault the movie for cheating me with false pretenses, as it makes no attempt to hide its nature. I won't claim the movie has no story, as it in fact becomes a rather conventional romance within its own oddball confines. But the movie remained strange above all else, and about halfway through, that simply stopped being enough for me.

I can see why some critics ranked this as a top film of the year. It's not a film snob thing, it's a "form over function" thing. And if that style of filmmaking is in your wheelhouse, then I'd wager you'll love The Lobster. But for me, it was only a C-.

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