★★★☆☆There were few films at Cannes last year with as strange a central premise as Yorgos Lanthimos' first English language offering The Lobster, written with his long-standing collaborator Efthymis Filippou. Bearing the macabre tone of his previous works Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos plants the audience in a bizarre world where being single is anathema. If you aren't coupled off you are whisked away to a sanitary hotel in the countryside where you have 45 days to find a romantic partner or pay the price. If you're still single at the end of the allotted time you are turned into an animal of your choosing. This premise, though outlandish, is in essence an exploration of how in modern society singletons are treated with disdain and suspicion.
As a satire on dating culture, Lanthimos certainly has a lot of fun exploring his theme. Colin Farrell play the recently divorced David, who heads off to the country to stay at a hotel ruled over by Olivia Colman's officious owner. The hotel is an odd place, strangely sanitary, runs like clockwork and devoid of romance. The hotel is populated by a host of bizarre characters, including The Lisping Man (an effective bit-part for John C. Reilly) and The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw). The exchange between these two characters and David have a wonderful deadpan comic rhythm. We see them bond on hunting sessions - a method by which residents of the hotel can extend their visit if they capture singletons living wild in the nearby forest- chat at meals, all exchanging sorrowful tales of their currently single lives.
The desperation of the hotel residents is squirm-inducing, making you feel like a fly on the wall at a speed-dating night, seeing all the horrors of dating in high-definition. The first half of The Lobster is highly entertaining, circling its outlandish premise with incredibly insightful wit. However, it's only half the story. The second half sees David flee to the forest to join with the singletons, lead by a stone-faced Léa Seydoux, who insists on her inverted set of rules, insisting that if you are going to be a loner you are not to fall in love. Lanthimos holds up a mirror to the first half of the movie reflecting the absurdity of each way of life. It's also in this half that we meet The Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). While Weisz gives an excellent performance as a rebellious loner who has set her eyes on David, the pacing falls apart.
The sudden injection of romance into this deadpan world jars, tonally throwing the movie into chaos. A romantic might argue this is the perfect manner into which you can capture the idea of love cinematically. Love is chaotic, and so it makes sense that the internal rules of The Lobster would equally be affected. Sadly, this sleight of hand fails to maintain your attention. In terms of Lanthimos' work it's perhaps his least arresting to date, but it remains an entertaining examination of romance, loneliness and at the very least has you wondering what animal you would like to be turned into.
Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh