When the opening hour of a film gives you so much joy -- only for its second half to then disintegrate and not live up to the benchmark it had previously set -- is it right to feel aggravated? It’s a quandary that’s dogged mankind ever since a cloud blocked the first caveman’s view of a full moon. And one that I faced as I left The Lobster.
The Lobster’s beginning enraptured me in such a unique fashion - as it combined comedy, drama, tragedy, and romance in a bewitching concoction - that when its final salvo was void of any of the energy, panache or even intrigue that had previously made it so compelling, I was left more enraged than if it had just been awful for its entire running time.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos – making his first English language film after four efforts in Greek – The Lobster is set in a dystopian future where singles in an unnamed City are sent to a hotel and then given 45 days to find a romantic partner. Otherwise they’re turned into any animal that they desire. The man that takes us into this bizarre world is Colin Farrell’s David, who brings with him his brother, who was recently turned into a dog.
With The Lobster, Colin Farrell continues to expand his impressively eclectic recent filmography, giving a more rotund and vulnerable performance that connects in a touching, sweet and amusing manner. Far from the suave, attractive leading-man figure that populated Alexander, Miami Vice, In Bruges, and Total Recall, in The Lobster the Irish stud is void of any of the confidence or swagger that we usually associate with him. Yet, Farrell is able to pull it off with aplomb, sauntering through the film with an unassuming naivety that is beguiling.
While at the hotel, Colin Farrell is joined by his fellow singletons John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw, who are simply labelled as Lisping and Limping Man, respectively, and they form a hilariously droll trifecta as they set out to find love before they’re transformed into their designated creature. The trio’s pursuits for companionship produce the funniest and most striking moments of the film. Any little similarity or spark between them and a woman is pounced upon, while even a brutal punishment for masturbation and a suicide attempt, as well as the subsequent lackadaisical response of its witnesses, somehow produces laughs.
All of which proves just how strong a handle on The Lobster’s irreverent tone Yorgos Lanthimos has, as he deliberately plays with audiences’ expectations with his use of sudden, brief glimpses of bloody violence and odd exchanges of dialogue. The supporting cast of Lea Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ashley Jensen, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Weisz also revel in the offbeat sensibilities of Lanthimos’ script and direction, adding an intensity and weight that could easily get lost in the quirky nature of the film.
But, unfortunately, the film takes its turn towards tedium once David escapes the Hotel. David then comes into contact with a group of Loners, but the new woody locale and cast of characters brings The Lobster to a screeching halt. Suddenly, its jokes don’t land, and the intended romance between David and Rachel Weiz’s Short Sighted Woman lacks any sparkle because of just how deadpan the film is, and is a poor replacement for the scenes and relationships before it. In fact, even its idiosyncratic tone begins to grate.
Yet, even though this shift is a hindrance rather than a catalyst, there’s still so much that’s bold, funny, disturbing and thought-provoking about The Lobster that you’ll be happy to forgive it failings, and instead focus on just how wonderfully original it is. It's just disappointing to think that it could have been even more impressive, though.