There are many different forms of love, so why shouldn’t romantic comedies come in just as many different forms? The ones that tend to stick with audiences are the films that skew slightly away from tradition. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER are modern examples of doing just that – capturing the ups and downs of romantic relationships in artistically soul-quaking manners. We can thankfully add Yorgos Lanthimos’ sci-fi dark comedy, THE LOBSTER, to this list. Weird, wacky and all around wickedly wonderful, this anti-romcom shakes up the genre’s status quo.
David (Colin Farrell) has just been left by his wife of twelve years when he’s admitted to a luxurious matchmakers’ retreat. In this off-kilter, semi-dystopian society, people must couple up or run the risk of being alone and turned into animals – animals of their choosing. Guests are forced to dress in uniforms to discourage individuality – khakis and sweaters for men, dresses for women – and must mingle in scheduled activities like dances, meals and hunts. They also attend plays put on by the staff (played by Olivia Coleman, Ariane Labed and Garry Mountaine) that encourage guests to mate or die. As David witnesses the fates of his hotel mates – like Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) – a rogue faction led by merciless Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) helps him escape. Only her singleton philosophy’s rules are just as rigid as the hotel’s. Luckily Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) provides a ray of sunlight.
Months later, explaining the plot makes me smile with slack-jawed glee and laugh all over again, remembering how witty, cheeky and charming this absurdist take on romantic relationships genuinely is. However, its acerbic nature never comes from malice. If anything, it could help people. Farrell’s dry, deadpan delivery of his dialogue is perfection. The scenes where he’s attempting to change himself to fit into the hotel society’s norms – when he’s dating the Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) – are amongst this film’s brightest spots. He’s truly never been better. Though an astute comedic lens that refracts a disturbing relationship aspect, we see David’s limping friend (Ben Wishaw) change his physical affliction simply to strike a commonality with a potential mate, Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). Everything is played to a hilarious and artistically heightened pitch here, but its real-world resonance is cutting. The ways Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s script spotlights the changing mutations of love is pure genius.
While there’s a lot of perfection showcased, it’s not a totally perfect film due to a few small mitigating factors that might be dependent on the viewer. Animal lovers (like myself) might bristle at a few of the scenes. Despite one of the sequences hinging on the shock value of one animal’s gruesome death (that happens off camera), I can assure you it’s not taken lightly. In fact, it changes one character for the better, informing a few integral decisions. Once David leaves the resort, a little of the narrative’s momentum slows down. The strongest scenes take place in the resort mainly because there’s so much to explore with the other colorful characters in the hotel. In the woods, the singletons there aren’t given as much dimension. You might be able to sense a sort of distance – a cavernous divide – growing. Is it because the romance is cooling – as lust leaves and reality sinks in – or is it because the third act simply isn’t as solid as the first two-thirds? This could be open to debate. I think it’s a little bit of both. Even though I’m sure it’s meant to echo romances ending on unsatisfactory notes, the end will leave you feeling disenchanted.
Overall, THE LOBSTER really digs its claws into viewers and pinches a few nerves. Serve it with a side of clarified butter and some cheddar biscuits and you’ve got yourselves a cinematic feast.
4 out of 5
THE LOBSTER is now playing.