"The Lobster" Goes Bad In Tedious Second Half

Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos makes his English language debut “The Lobster,” at first a fresh, funny dark comedy that ranks among the decade’s most inspired. The screenplay (co-written by Efthymis Filippou) imagines a near-future society in which single people are second-class citizens, each given 45 days to find a mate lest they be irreversibly turned into an animal. The pic’s surrealist bent is form-fitted to its wonderful assemblage of performers – Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, and Ben Whishaw among them – and its first hour more than lives up to its promise. But by the 60-minute mark Lanthimos’ bag of tricks is empty, kickstarting a long slide into tedium that sinks a project that should have sung.

Once past an opening sequence that features one of the most bizarre acts of revenge in movie history – an ideal entry point – we meet David (Farrell). David is a newly single thirty-something whose brother has just been turned into a Border Collie. As this sad man and his dog (brother) apprehensively check into the local singles Hotel, David resolves that, if pressed, he’d like to be a lobster, chalking his decision up to the crustacean’s long lifespan.

As would be expected, his eyes soon turn to several of the Hotel’s female occupants, each with a defining quirk. There’s Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), their desirability obviously intensified by the prospect of life as a quadruped. The Hotel’s various social functions – dances, dinners, etc. – go a long way in matching singles, but David and his new friends Lisping Man (Reilly) and Limping Man (Whishaw) run into unforeseen, frequently amusing stumbling blocks.

Eventually David escapes the Hotel and joins the Loners, a group of forest-dwelling singles who’ve rejected societal expectations of coupledom. Although this is when the always-wonderful Weisz enters the picture as something other than narrator – she plays Short Sighted Woman, David’s best romantic prospect yet – it’s also when the screenplay begins to sputter. The Hotel is where the story’s demented pleasures reside, all but disappearing when Lanthimos reverts to a rather conventional story of love and companionship that spends the better part of an hour going in circles. What was once daft quickly turns dulls, a hot spring of weird comedy gone cold.

The film’s final scene suggests an emotional depth that the movie mostly doesn’t have, ignoring the seriocomic vibe of acts I and II in service of blunted social commentary. Its notes on the absurdities of romantic partnerships are welcome ones, but they’re at odds with Lanthimos’ desire to create an unreality that’s both hilarious and discomfiting. The writer-director wants to have everything but can’t quite figure how to pull it off.

As such, “The Lobster” is much less than the sum of its parts. It lives up to its logline and then it doesn’t, giving us a tantalizing taste of what might have been. What should have been.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: May 13, 2016 (Limited)
Studio: A24
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriter: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Jessica Barden, Ashley Jensen, Angeliki Papoulia
MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence)