AFI FEST: The Lobster
Review by Daniel Rester
The Lobster is one of the more bizarre and visionary films I’ve seen in recent years. It isn’t fully successful, and it probably won’t be for all (or even most) mainstream audiences’ tastes, but director Yorgos Lanthimos has conjured up something original and occasionally beautiful with the picture. I never thought I’d see a movie where Colin Farrell worries about turning into a sea creature if he is unable to find a relationship match, but here it is in all of its glory.
You read that correctly. Farrell plays David, one of many single people who must go to a place called The Hotel in a dystopian future in order to find a matching partner in just forty-five days. If the single person fails to do so, well, he or she is killed and transformed into a beast of their choice and sent off into The Woods. If the people succeed, they are allowed to go to The City and live as a couple.
Under these circumstances, the quiet David arrives at The Hotel – with a dog that is supposedly his brother – and chooses to become a lobster if he fails. David soon meets a number of odd ducks on his journey to change his relationship status, including people with names like Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia). Without spoiling anything, David eventually ends up in The Woods as a human and begins a bond with a lady billed as Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) – who also narrates the film.
Lanthimos co-wrote The Lobster with Efthimis Filippou. The two have crafted a darkly funny, sharply satirical screenplay that Lanthimos takes advantage of on the screen. The weirdly named characters converse in detail about topics such as blood stains, wolf attacks, and more as the dialogue ranges from quick comments to novelistic monologues. The narration by Weisz also purposely feels like it’s being read off a page as the events in David’s life are described as they occur. Lanthimos also has the actors deliver the dialogue in consistently flat and deadpan ways throughout the runtime.
All of the writing here is both a blessing and a curse. The script is smart and ambitious, maybe even brilliant at times, but it also presents characters that never quite feel real and are therefore hard to connect to. The settings are also sparse, so the audience must mostly rely on the characters to keep things interesting as they go to the same few places over and over again; the characters mostly succeed, but some moments between them feel pointless. Despite all of this, the writing works creatively in ways throughout — though the last act does grow repetitive and tedious.
The Lobster is almost as offbeat on the screen as it is on the page. Lanthimos and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis present the locations with mostly muted colors while the production design by Jacqueline Abrahams is simple, distant, and somewhat eerie all at once. The film also feels strangely balletic at times as Lanthimos and Bakatakis incorporate a few elegant slow-motion running scenes into the film. Some images presented are striking as well, with one involving a certain animal that may upset some audience members due to its graphic detail.
The cast is uniformly terrific. Farrell gives a surprising and understated performance as David, showing off a different side of his acting chops; it’s one of the better performances of his career. Weisz is also quirky and lovely in her role, and her and Farrell share believable chemistry. Whishaw is a lot of fun in his part too, playing a cocky guy with a limp, while Lea Seydoux lends her skills as a woman named Loner Leader. Everyone seems to relish the opportunity to play around with such darkly comedic ideas in the script.
Lanthimos’ film goes its own way from beginning to end, always taking audience members where they least expect. With its mix of loud string music, unusual images, and complex ideas, The Lobster is unique but perhaps too weird for its own good at times. Let me put it this way: walking out of the theater, I instantly felt like the film was a fascinating blend of Stanley Kubrick-esque stylistics and darkly romantic ingredients. If that sounds like your cup of tea, make The Lobster a must-see for you.
My Grade: A- (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: N/A.