Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
Eighty issues ago, I did my 5 Favorites article on Scarlett Johansson. Since she’s the headliner of this week’s newest Marvel Cinematic Universe film, I won’t do her again. I’ve also done a best of Marvel list (#44), so that leaves either a citation of the best films of all of the film’s stars, including newcomer Florence Pugh and longtime TV actor David Harbour, or, as I’ve decided to do, tackle someone who has at least five worthy films to cite, only one or two of which I’ve tackled before: Rachel Weisz.
About a Boy (2002)
In this 2002 romantic drama Hugh Grant stars as the son of a successful songwriter cruising on the royalties with no concerns or connections to force him to care about anyone but himself. Attending a single parent support group having invented a fictional son, Grant befriends a young boy (Nicholas Hoult) whom he lies for. Hoult introduces him to a friend’s depressed mother (Toni Collette) hoping the two will hit it off and instead causing Grant to mature and start an unsuccessful relationship with Weisz.
Weisz’s role in this film is minimal and she’s given very little to do, but does fine with what she has. Grant and Hoult are terrific together and the film’s fascinating concept, drawn from a novel by Nick Hornby, helps buoy a film that works in small doses, but often feels at odds with its own genre. That said, this was one of Grant’s earliest attempts to be more than just a romantic lead and it was an introduction to Hoult, who has done even better work in subsequent films.
The Constant Gardener (2005)
Based on a John Le Carré novel, The Constant Gardener stars Ralph Fiennes as a low-level British diplomat drawn into high stakes intrigue as he begins investigating a sickness spreading through a Kenyan village that is linked to a pharmaceutical company trying to skirt the laws regarding trials, which have been conducted on unsuspecting, poor Kenyans. The film progresses as the intrigues begin intertwining and the hazardous relationship between the drug company and a British government official comes to the forefront.
Fernando Meirelles, who came to Oscar’s attention with his 2002 Brazilian film City of God, directs Fiennes, Weisz as his conscientious wife, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, and Pete Postlethwaite in a gripping film. Carré’s novels have often made great adaptations for filmgoers and The Constant Gardener is certainly a tense and fascinating film. Weisz was among the four Oscar nominees for the film, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar on her first go. She’s superb in the film, but everyone is working at a high level of skill, so it’s no surprise she was able to keep up with all of them.
The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
Acclaimed director Terence Davies helms this adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea, which follows a disaffected housewife as she begins an affair with a former RAF pilot. Set in 1950, this period drama features Weisz in the lead role with Tom Hiddleston as her romantic interest and Simon Russell Beale as her husband. This dense drama features plenty of opportunities for Weisz and Hiddleston, well before he landed his now-famous role as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Weisz is stupendous in this film as she combats depression and ennui in an era when housewives were seldom allowed outside career in a society that frowned upon such. Her poignant performance draws the audience in and never lets them go, giving them a compelling glimpse inside the life of a frustrated and neglected woman and the outside forces that conspire to make her life even more miserable, including the limited joy she feels while engaged in her affair. While the concept sounds like something that might have fit right at home in a Sirkian melodrama, the film plays things fairly straight and gives us a simple, elegant story that feels naturally executed even if not as stylishly as a Douglas Sirk film would have been.
The Lobster (2015)
While Weisz has proven she’s plenty adept at drama, few films have given her the best opportunities to exercise her comedic muscles. Yet, with Yorgos Lanthimos’ original feature, The Lobster, she’s given plenty of opportunity and she excels in a major supporting role. The film centers on Colin Farrell as an unlucky-at-love single man who is mandated by stringent laws requiring those struggling to find a relationship to find love or be transformed into an animal. This dystopian surrealist comedy puts Farrell into a facility where he must find love with one of the other singles within 45 days.
There, he meets the beautiful and quirky Weisz, who helps him discover who he is while not feeling any particularly romantic feelings about him. Together, they conspire to either trick the facility into releasing them as a potential couple or to escape into the woods where they can hope to survive as authorities track them down for processing. Lanthimos’ twisted concept is fascinating to watch unfold and Farrell, Weisz, Ben Whishaw, and John C. Reilly give the film their all, delivering compelling performances in a film that has to be seen to be understood even if full understanding might require a re-watch.
The Favourite (2018)
It took 13 years for Weisz to make her way back to the Oscars following her Oscar win for The Constant Gardener. The Favourite provided her with that role and it’s a hilarious and ribald affair directed by her Lobster helmer Lanthimos. The film features future Oscar winner (for this film) Olivia Colman as Queen Anne with Weisz as her current closest companion and Oscar winner Emma Stone as her newest consort who begins surreptitiously competing with Weisz for dominance of Anne’s affections.
These three women are brilliant together in a fascinating exploration of the real life reign of Queen Anne and the various associates around her. Although the film takes extreme liberties with much of its material, Lanthimos adds his quirky, surrealistic sensibilities to the film and the end result is one of the most wonderful concoctions of 2018. It’s a film that might drive Anglophiles a bit barmy, but for everyone else, and perhaps even some of the more open-minded fans of British history, the film is a funny, ostentatious, and outlandish picture and it’s all the better for it.