Yorgos Lanthimos | 114 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | Ireland, UK, Greece, France & Netherlands / English & French | 15 / R
The first English language feature from Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (of Dogtooth) is set in a relationship-obsessed near-future dystopia. Any person not in a relationship is sent to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find a partner among the other guests or they get turned into an animal of their choice. Guests can earn extensions to their time in The Hotel by shooting loners — singleton escapees who live in The Woods nearby — during regular hunting trips. The film begins with David (Colin Farrell) discovering his wife has left him, thereby automatically banishing him to The Hotel, where he arrives with his brother — who has been before and failed, so is now a dog. Not an anthropomorphic dog, just a dog. As David makes friends and tries to make a romantic connection, events push him closer to the loners…
The Lobster is the kind of odd movie that critics adore (90% on Rotten Tomatoes) and then, I always feel, spend some of their time looking down their noses at regular folk who don’t get it. In my experience, you have a 50/50 chance of such movies actually being any good. For me, The Lobster straddles that divide. At times it provides wryly amusing absurdist comedy, with the cast’s deliberately stilted performances and the strange situations the characters are subjected to. It also presents almost-thought-provoking observations on the objectively-bizarre rituals of social niceties, filtered through the prism of these unusual individuals and how they use, or don’t, methods of social interaction familiar from our world. If that all sounds a bit pretentious, well, that’s the level you have to engage with The Lobster on if you want to get anything out of it beyond a smattering of oddball laughs.
Even if you accept these goals, Lanthimos’ film eventually goes off the rails. Without meaning to spoil too much, David eventually falls in with the loners, who have their own very specific social rules designed to inhibit partnering up. Revelation: the outsiders are fundamentally the same, just with different rules! That’s about the extent of what I got from this portion of the film; unfortunately, it goes on for a really, really long time. Among this group David meets ‘Short Sighted Woman’ (everyone aside from David is similarly named) and falls in love with her — I mean, of course he does, she’s played by Rachel Weisz. They develop a secret mode of communicating, but will be harshly punished if caught. This storyline is what the film uses to occupy its remaining time, but what it lacks in the offbeat humour of the time in The Hotel it makes up for with… nothing.
At its best, The Lobster is like a Wes Anderson movie run through the mind of a sci-fi-loving sociopath (the dog even gets similar treatment to that of an Anderson movie, again with the same extreme filter). Unfortunately, as you might expect of a sociopath, it doesn’t know when to stop, leaving behind social commentary and alternative humour to drudge through an uninteresting romance to a limp ending. What starts well — though certainly an acquired taste — ends up feeling like a waste of time. Shame.
The Lobster will be available on Netflix UK from Monday.