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Lay The Favourite - Review

Lay The Favourite

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

STEPHEN Frears seems to be developing a penchant for placing leading ladies in skimpy outfits. Having given us the appealing sight of Gemma Arterton in a pair of barely there denim shorts in his last film, Tamara Drewe, he now delivers Rebecca Hall in next to nothing at all for Lay The Favourite.

While both actresses are good enough to carry it off and still turn in commanding central performances there is a sneaking suspicion that Frears is becoming borderline voyeuristic. In Hall’s case, especially, the need for two early scenes involving acts of striptease don’t really feel essential.

But then there’s a lot wrong with Lay The Favourite that Frears often seems to be trying too hard to dazzle in the hope that audiences won’t realise the lack of substance until it’s too late.

Based on the real-life memoirs of Beth Raymer, a former stripper who found fortune, romance and danger by moving to Vegas and becoming involved in book-keeping, the film follows Beth (Hall) as fate leads her to Dink (Bruce Willis), an old-school gambler who seeing beyond the ditzy façade, takes a shine to her and recruits her as his good luck charm.

In doing so, however, Beth makes Dink’s wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta Jones) jealous and places his own marriage in danger, eventually prompting her to flee to New York to the ever dependable Jeremy (Joshua Jackson), where she also starts working for the flamboyant and illegal bookie Rosie (Vince Vaughn) and really begins to get into trouble.

Given its basis in truth, the events of Frears’ movie do have a certain kind of car-crash quality, while the starry nature of the ensemble cast are mostly all on form.

But the problems stem from Frears’ failure to properly explain a lot of what is going on with the gambling, while asking us to root for a set of characters who don’t really warrant our sympathy.

Hall’s Beth could potentially be a polarising character too given that some will find her ditzy to the point of irritating, while others may just fall for her charms. No matter which one you ultimately feel, Hall is still good value but saddled with a character that’s arguably the movie equivalent of Marmite!

Willis, meanwhile, is on endearing form, Zeta-Jones has fun playing it potty-mouthed and Vaughn manages to tone down his brazen comedic routine to stay the right side of obnoxious.

Hence, for all that’s bad about Lay The Favourite, there’s a lot that’s appealing too, meaning that it’s just about worth taking the gamble if you’re a fan of quirky, independent-minded comedy-drama.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 94mins
UK Release Date: June 22, 2012