The Lobster is playing at Plymouth Arts Centre until 19 November.
“Which animal would you like to be turned into should you not manage to find a partner?” is definitely not a question I could have come up with on my own but it elicited a very revealing and much-too-rude-to-repeat-here answer from my viewing companion.
At first glance The Lobster might not seem ideal first date fodder but anyone managing to translate a swipe right or an online encounter into a real-life rendezvous could do worse.
It may be a near-future dystopian view of the single life but you will have so much to talk about afterwards.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English language film is set in a society which only countenances life in a couple. Any separation – whether by death or desertion – is followed by swift arrest and transportation to a hotel-shaped prison where a 45-day countdown to find another partner commences.
Anyone unsuccessful in finding a new mate before the deadline is transformed into the animal of their choosing and released into nearby woods and left to their fate.
The story follows newly-single Colin Farrell – uncharacteristically tubby and moustachioed here – as he searches for a replacement for the wife who leaves in the film’s opening minutes, which also feature the finest bit of donkey acting ever committed to celluloid.
Olivia Colman is superb as the sinister hotel manager who explains and enforces the unbending rules of coupledom while each evening performing a retro cabaret routine with her own partner – a sort of malevolent Peters and Lee – interspersed with instructional skits exalting the benefits of not living alone.
It’s a place where Bridget Jones’ smug marrieds are in charge and the loners who have fled to the woods are hunted daily by the hotel residents in order to win vital extra days to add to their ever-decreasing tally.
Farrell’s eventual escape only replaces the tyranny of the hotel with another set of inflexible diktats governing life in the woods where flirting is forbidden, spelling problems for his fledgling romance with fellow loner and narrator Rachel Weisz.
Farrell’s navigation through this bizarre existence is darkly funny and deeply unpleasant while the film’s Glen Baxteresque sensibility and the deadpan – almost monotone – delivery of the actors roots the action in reality, belying the surreal world they are being forced to inhabit.
Despite its take on our couple-fixated society it’s a perfect first date movie; a twisted love story which, like Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, lingers long after the closing credits – its grimly amusing narrative guaranteed to take care of any lull in those traditionally tricky first date conversations.