Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s fourth feature-film, and second one at the Cannes Festival, can be divided into two parts: the first, good one, and the second half, which takes place in a woodsy area. There are trees, lots of them, and people living in them who attempt to alternatively break away from, and comply with, some complicated social constructs governing celibacy and marriage. How does THE LOBSTER succeed? Let me count the ways.
The cast is magnificent, to be sure: Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly but lacks chemistry. All of them play celibate men and women who are caught in a big brother-like system, in which they have a limited time to find a mate or risk be turned into animals. Literally (well, it is Lanthimos and if you saw his previous film “Dogtooth” you would know that his films have an extra-terrestrial, off-kilter quality to them).
The first part of the film depicts all this happy brotherhood of human beings (I’m being mildly sarcastic here) at a magnificent old manse of a hotel in the British countryside. The people we encounter (the actors named heretofore as well as a cast of anonymous guests) are there to find a mate, under approximately one-hundred days.
It’s like Lanthimos grabbed a magic brush from his artist’s box and gave the human social compact new color. He tells his story with so much originality that the Lumière Theater audience exploded in laughter many times.
When Colin Farrell’s character sits in his hotel room with a dog (who we later find out is actually his–former–brother), a butler, a maid and who appears to be a hotel manager ceremoniously walk into the room, drily give him some clarifications about what their expectations are (“to find a mate”), and proceed to tie his left hand to his back via some contraption in order to really “show him what it’s like to live by yourself,” the idea being that it’s a lot healthier to be in a couple.
But wait. This fantastic charade is actually taken seriously by all, which makes it so funny and slightly off-putting to watch. This is reality. Once a rebellion succeeds and some of the participants empty out into the surrounding woods under the terse command of a humorless character played by Léa Seydoux, all bets are off. LOBSTER stagnates and what was originality becomes repetitiveness. A shame, for Lanthimos clearly has something to say. But this film is in need of a good edit before its theatrical release, to keep things interesting through to the end.