The Lobster is a shrewd piece of social science fiction, set in a near-future of culturally forced coupling that pestered singles would swear is now.
Divorced, widowed, preferring to be alone, it doesn't matter in the droll dystopia concocted by director Yorgos Lanthimos. Singles are given 45 days to find another mate or else be transformed into the animal of their choice. Extra days are earned by bagging dissident "loners" with tranquilizer guns.
David (Colin Farrell) chose the titular crustacean as his future form, should things turn out like his brother, now a dog. He'll spend 45 days at an grandly odd Irish estate with other increasingly desperate singles, and new couples bonded by a single mundane quality in common. Children will be supplied, if needed.
Through that premise and Farrell's deadpan performance, Lanthimos initially dissects the superficial things we do for love. David's pot belly and broom mustache hardly makes him a catch. Pressed for a defining quality, all he can offer is short-sightedness. David can't be himself and hope to remain human.
So, David clumsily attempts to be who he isn't, compromising his gentle nature to attract an exceedingly heartless woman (Angeliki Papoulia). Whatever awkward lunge for a connection David doesn't make is covered by his new friends, one known for his lisp (John C. Reilly), the other for his limp (Ben Whishaw).
Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou reveal this world and its sad personalities in wickedly observed details and trenchantly offhand dialogue. The Lobster is a unique kind of funny, almost Pythonesque at times, like the hotel skits performed for singles to show why married is better (someone's there to save you if you're choking) and David's frustrating bed turndown service.
Lanthimos' slyly toxic case against the institution and expectations of marriage gets even more complicated. David escapes the hotel, joining the loners hiding in the forest and finds being single is its own oppression. The leader (Lea Seydoux) is an orthodox loner who forbids flirting. That isn't good, considering another loner (Rachel Weisz) sees David through short-sighted eyes.
The Lobster remains strangely romantic throughout, an absurdist take on the notion that great love stories — Casablanca, The Way We Were, Gone With the Wind — don't always end tidily. A cockeyed pessimist, Lanthimos ends his film on the brink of an extreme act of emotional commitment. If it happens, nothing screams love louder. If not, love doesn't have a chance.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.