Saturday, January 12, 2019

Queen Anne's Face

Olivia Colman plays an 18th-century queen in The Favourite, but there's nothing regal or austere about her.  The movie is a wicked, twisty period piece, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, a beautiful auteur who delivers iciness and strangeness and meanness in almost every scene in every movie he helms (including The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer).  He's a Kubrickian demon-child banging out horrible and gorgeous little worlds.  

The Favourite has the fever and flavor of a masterpiece about it.  It is a comedy that's both nasty-funny and wickedly sad, but somehow when Olivia Colman is onscreen the movie deepens beyond slapsticky palace intrigue, turning from just funny and sad into completely and dreamily tragic. She gives the whole thing an off-kilter realness that you can't get banish or dismiss from your head.  At least I can't.  I keep seeing Colman's melancholy-queen mug in my dreams.

Queen Anne's frustrations with her body (gout is destroying her legs) and with her life (she's given birth to 17 children all of whom are dead; she is overwhelmed by the cutthroat super-wigged dandies lobbying for taxes and wars) manifest through loneliness and gluttony and lust.  But there's never anything prurient in the way Colman portrays it all.  She has the face of a confused, betrayed angel throughout.  There's something lantern-like behind that face, a magic blur and balm.  Her bearing, her quivering voice, her glossy terrified eyes too.  She plays Queen Anne as if the queen is lost in her own self-imposed limbo, condemned by desire and exhaustion and the need to keep feeding herself sweets to erase it all.  

There's a scene when Queen Anne's about to greet some courtiers with a new style of make-up on her face she seems to be very proud of.  Her lady-in-waiting (played by the great Rachel Weisz, and the other lady-in-waiting Emma Stone isn't bad either) lets her know she looks like a clown.  In a few seconds Colman rearranges her expression and demeanor into a torrent of bewilderment and anger and finally just plain old-fashioned self-loathing.  She retreats to have the make-up washed off and replaced.  Colman's empathy in the scene (hell in the whole movie) is somehow effusive, contagious; it creates a momentum within the movie's plot and machinations, like a secret compartment.  It makes all the other actors step up their games, but at the end of the whole thing gamesmanship really is not the point.  Colman's Queen Anne is a poem she's written to us about the frustrations of aging, the horrors of never getting exactly what you want without having to pay dearly for it.  She is so human she transcends artifice in this movie, but this transcendence reveals itself to be the highest form of art.  

I don't think I've ever been so affected by somebody in a movie.  It's weird I know, but also a beautiful feeling.  By delving so close to her own heart it seems Colman has found a way to universalize debauchery and sadness and regret without parody or judgment.  She gives us a love-letter to all that is wrong with humanity, and yet by the end of the whole thing all we see are blurry little angels floating on-screen.  Rabbits bumping into each other, like brain-cells, or snowflakes, or the feathers flying from a bird that's just been shot.