NOTE: This is a reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival. The Lobster opens in DC on May 20th.
In Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, anyone who doesn't find love within 45 days gets transformed into the animal of their choosing. Most choose dogs. The characters have names like Short-Sighted Woman, Biscuit Woman, and Lisping Man. To call the film weird would be an understatement, but it's the strange, surreal world and the little details that make it even stranger that are the film's best asset, even if it's not enough to sustain interest for the overlong runtime.
It's my contention that pudgy Colin Farrell is infinitely better than ripped Colin Farrell, and he's definitely the former in this case. He plays David, a lonely architect whose wife has left him, meaning he has to check in to a very specific hotel. Being single is considered a detriment to society, with special value for those who are in committed relationships. In this hotel, you're either part of a couple, turned into an animal, or one of the Loners who rebels against the system and lives out on the fringes. But those who do are hunted down by the hotel's guests, with each capture extending their time. Be a skilled hunter, like the cold and callous Heartless Woman (Aggeliki Papoulia) and you may never run out of time.
David's quiet, seems like a nice guy, but he's a comically bad liar, which makes it funny that everybody seems to believe everything he says. But that could be because of the language, which is plain-spoken and totally free of subtext, making lying all the easier and funnier. He manages to befriend Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), get courted by the Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), and consider his match-making options, such as the Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). It's about as ridiculous as it sounds, but like all of the best satire there are kernels of enlightenment. The film is basically one long jab at how we in America perceive love and relationships. In The Lobster's skewed vision, couples that are having troubles are given a child because children are a cure for all problems, something which is patently false and kind of nuts. Lanthimos builds this world in such a way that it feels fully-realized and authentic, while the cast is deeply committed to playing their roles straight.
As long as Lanthimos is building out the details of skewering relationship culture the film is a lot of fun. Learning about this world turns out to be more entertaining than living in it, though, and when David escapes to live among the Loners (led by Lea Seydoux) it takes a turn for the dark. The Loners turn out to be just as strict as the couples, denying their members any shot at finding true love. So when David and the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) begin to fall for one another, they've got all of society looking to contend with.
Credit Lanthimos for taking on an insanely complex love story that challenges social constructs, but the film works better as a satirical piece. Without its sense of humor The Lobster drags on and loses much of its edge, becoming just another film that's weird for the sake of being weird. But there's no denying how unique this film is in just about every way. It takes an unusual approach, but it may have you rethinking what it means to be single. Maybe being alone isn't so bad. You could always be turned into a lobster.
Rating: 3 out of 5