Arts movie review

Lily and Amanda aren’t horsing around with murder

Movie ‘Thoroughbreds’ breeds contempt by and for the upper class

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Olivia Cooke stars as Amanda and Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily in 'Thoroughbreds,' a Focus Features release.
Courtesy of Focus Features

Directed by Cory Finley
Screenplay written by Cory Finley
Starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, and Paul Sparks
Rated R, Opening Mar. 9

Thoroughbreds is too entertaining and farcical to not enjoy. The plot is simple: Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) hates her stepfather; Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is her sociopathic friend; and together, they plot to murder Lily’s stepfather together. But it becomes more than that. Cory Finley shows off his theater chops with Amanda and Lily’s banter. The two female leads are distinct from each other, but the chemistry between Cooke and Taylor-Joy makes their friendship work, and ultimately reveals that they are not as different as the film fools you into believing. In the Q&A afterwards, Finley explained that their narratives form an X-shape: in the end, Lily takes Amanda’s place and Amanda takes Lily’s.

The title Thoroughbreds refers not to the horses (or the horse) in the film, but rather these two well-bred, upper class young women in Connecticut. We find that Amanda, in spite of her sociopathy, is witty and charming and practical. Cooke plays a brilliant Amanda whose honesty will win you over. Opposite Amanda is uptight yet emotional Lily who hides behind heavy makeup and chic, effeminate fashion. Lily and Amanda’s first meeting tells you almost everything about their relationship. Amanda wanders around Lily’s house and finds a display sword. Amanda pulls the blade from its sheath, just Lily steps into the room, pretending to be nervous, but reads her old friend’s intentions perfectly.

All the while, the film plays with traditional storytelling. Tim is a remarkable character. He is the hustler Lily and Amanda hire to murder Lily’s stepfather, but he is also, as Anya Taylor-Joy said in the Q&A, the “moral compass of the movie.” With a poor background, Tim resorts to selling drugs and working multiple jobs at whatever places hire him. But he dreams big, saying he’ll move up in the world, only for brutal Amanda’s verbal knockdown of his dreams and the two girls’ threats to risk his future. The status difference is very clear. For Tim, who was a sex offender in the past, and for Lily and Amanda, two underage girls with well off families, there is no contest in who survives legal justice. Tim’s fate is tied with these girls and the murder plan with them.

This is a gorgeously-filmed story. Set in Connecticut, this movie’s upper class world is arresting to look at. For plebeians like me, I am the hustler Tim, who stares at Lily’s mansion as opera music plays in the background; he marvels at the exquisite flooring, breathes in the scent of soaps in the marble bathroom, lusts after the fine china, and all the while, the camera, costuming, and lighting just beckon you to stare. The quirky, offbeat music, the dance party lights, the meticulously-applied lipstick, and the selective clothes all seem deliberately unpurposeful. Everything fits into this world effortlessly, but the audience doesn’t. The film prods at us, because while we are real, the thoroughbreds in this story can only exist in fiction.