There has been a recent string of playwrights turned filmmakers that have made great films. Kenneth Lonergan has returned to prominence with his masterwork Manchester by the Sea and writer/director Martin McDonough has made three greats in a row with In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. It was hard to not get excited for the directorial debut of another playwright turned director Cory Finely and his stylish looking movie Thoroughbreds starring two gifted actresses Olivia Cooke and Anya-Taylor Joy.
Thoroughbreds is a movie that has a lot going for it. In many respects, this is a unique, entertaining and extremely well-done film. In other respects, the story feels devoid of purpose and resolution. It’s been many days since I’ve seen the film and have done a lot of thinking and reading up on the movie and I still feel cold by the ending of this movie. Thematically I don’t think it works.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot to love about Thoroughbreds. The movie is centered around two high school teenage girls on the cusp of college. One named Amanda (played by Olivia Cooke) struggles with feeling anything at all and the other girl named Lily (played by Ana-Taylor Joy) struggles with feeling too much. Both childhood friends that have been reconnected following an incident with Amanda and a horse. Lily is from an upper class family with a step-father that she despises. The pair hatch a scheme to kill him.
Visually this movie is gorgeous. The way the camera glides, moves and tracks through the hallways and different locations of Thoroughbreds. The cinematography by Lyle Vincent helps give this almost completely dialogue driven black teen comedy an energy that the movie would otherwise be lacking. Vincent’s photography actually reminds me a lot of a Yorgos Lanthimos film. There is an icy coldness to the precision that mirrors Amanda’s personality.
The performances of Ana-Taylor Joy and Olivia Cooke are also two standouts. The pair of them continue to be some of my favorite young rising actresses. Olivia Cooke sheds the tender warmness that made her so likable in Bates Motel and Ready Player One. She is cold and calculated. It is sometimes hard to gauge a performance that is seemingly devoid of emotions but Cooke is whip-sharp in the role. Anya-Taylor Joy perfectly pays opposite Cooke. The pair has seemingly conflicting personalities but it isn’t hard to understand why they would be friends. They have an attractive pull on one another.
The movie is largely entertaining with its strong and developed sense of style. When the black comedy is landing the movie is quite funny. I thought the film could have used a little more dark comedy but it does a decent amount as is. That being said when the dialogue is flying the movie is undeniably entertaining and interesting.
This is also the last on-screen performance by the talented actor Anton Yelchin. His performance is really good and his character does play into how the movie views characters at different levels of class. That being said whether his character plays into the themes of the movie, at a plot level his character leaves little impact and feels too unimportant to be given such a large amount of screen time.
Once the movie was over I felt like the movie didn’t fulfill its purpose or accomplish what it set out to do. There is a difference between endings you don’t like but it still works thematically and endings that just don’t work thematically. I think the ending falls into the latter of the two. I didn’t like the ending but I also don’t think it works or adds anything. The character arcs don’t feel like it tracks to anything profound or anything that resolves their journey. It isn’t clear if Cory Finely is trying to say anything at all with the movie’s ending. There have been movies I have watched where the ending felt ambiguous and I didn’t know what it meant but I knew there was something there to explore. I struggle to find anything in the ending of Thoroughbreds. This could change with repeat viewings but as of now, that is what I’ve arrived at.
Despite my disappointment and dislike of the ending (which I reserve the right to change my mind on), I do think this is a well-crafted film from a technical standpoint. The pair of Olivia Cooke and Anya-Taylor Joy are also wonderful to watch together. The style is enticing and the movie was always watchable. I think the movie could have been a bit better and stronger in spots, but overall it is a solid movie that is a genre-defying teen black comedy. I just don’t think the ending entirely works.