The Favourite is one of my favorite films of the year—yes, I see that, too—and it will be rolling out starting next week, beginning a hopeful Oscar charge. Leading the way on that is a cover feature in The Hollywood Reporter with its trio of stars, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, and also filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. The headline boasts that The Favourite “blows up gender politics”, and the article claims it’s “perfectly timed for the mixed-up zeitgeist of the #MeToo era”.
1) I would like to know what about the #MeToo zeitgeist is “mixed up”, and 2) that’s putting a lot on The Favourite that is maybe not all there. It definitely has a lot to say about power and the way women work around men, but the gender politics are not really blown up. It is, after all, still a story about women who are struggling to survive in a world determined by men, and who are also catty bitches.
Or c-nts, as the film, and Colman and Weisz, prefers to call them. There is a lot of c-word in The Favourite, and the article goes into that, that it’s not an exceptional word to the British Weisz and Colman, but is more taboo for Stone. A lot of this article feels like getting ahead of potential criticism by letting people know the ladies of The Favourite are fine saying c-nt so much (and also that nude scene was Emma Stone’s idea, don’t call us exploitative). They are clearly trying to get in on the “historically fancy ladies are empowering in our current moment” turf before Mary Queen of Scots. And it helps to get ahead of the criticism that it’s just a story about women being mean to each other. I mean, they are definitely mean to each other, but The Favourite is not about the being mean part, it’s about the world that necessitates that meanness. It’s just a fine line to walk because ultimately a story set within a monarchy and the rigid social structure that supports it is not going to make the best case study for egalitarian politics. Claim this turf if you want, just be aware of the limits of your argument.
Another interesting bit of their Oscar strategy is that The Favourite is going to commit category fraud. The film is split pretty evenly between Colman, Stone, and Weisz, but Stone and Weisz will submit in the Supporting Actress category, leaving Best Actress clear for Colman (who is legit terrific). Category fraud isn’t unusual, it just feels blatant here because all three women are equally important to the story, and we probably need a Best Ensemble Oscar. And recently there has been more and more frowning at category fraud, so it will be interesting to see if this works out for Stone and/or Weisz.
They’re so good it should work for at least one of them, but with some great ensembles also working elsewhere—see also: Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk—on top of regular ol’ supporting roles, it’s going to be a competitive category. Which is all the more reason to get out and campaign now, especially with Mary Queen of Scots looming with a similar position. I still think approaching a story about one of the strictest class systems the world has ever known as a metaphor for our troubled times is opening the door to a more complex conversation than any Oscar strategist wants, but what else can you do? “We say c-nt a lot” is not a workable narrative.