Movie Review: ‘Poor Things’

by | Dec 6, 2023 | Featured Post, Movie Reviews, Movies | 0 comments

Greetings again from the darkness. Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is possibly the most divisive director working today. Movie goers tend to either love his films like THE FAVOURITE (2018), THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017), THE LOBSTER (2015), and DOGTOOTH (2009) or walk away baffled that any decent human being could enjoy such dark works of strangeness and oddity. Despite this, two of his films have received Oscar nominations, and this latest may be both his most accessible and most outrageous project yet. It’s also a rare outing where Lanthimos left the writing to others. His co-writer on THE FAVOURITE, Tony McNamara (“The Great”) has adapted the screenplay from the 1992 novel by renowned Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, whose tome was influenced by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

Oscar winner Emma Stone delivers a truly remarkable (and physically demanding) performance as Bella Baxter. When we first meet Bella, she has the mind and coordination of a toddler in an adult woman’s body … the product of Dr. Godwin Baxter (you can call me God), played by Willem Dafoe. God is a surgeon-slash-mad scientist, his own scarred body the result of experiments conducted by his father. God is both doctor and monster. Although various animal blends (ducks, chickens, dogs, etc) roam the premises, it is Bella who is clearly God’s most treasured production. Her reanimation process and backstory are spelled out in the movie.

Bella develops daily, and when Godwin’s lawyer, Duncan Wedderbum (Mark Ruffalo) shows up to take care of some business, he is intrigued by Bella and offers to take her on an adventure … one that ultimately spans Lisbon to Paris, and a luxury cruise ship to a brothel. Duncan and Bella engage in “furious jumping” (her phrase for sex) and soon her libido is quite advanced, and her river of independence flows freely, turning Duncan into a whiny buffoon. This story, Bella’s story, is really about a woman finding her own way in a world where men try to control/manager her. It’s fascinating to see her hyper curiosity about the world and her surroundings. On top of that, Bella is often quite direct and unfiltered in her statements.

The humor here is frequent and unconventional as evidenced by Bella being described as “a beautiful retard”, and the stream of deadpan one-liners. Still, the message comes across loudly and clearly as we marvel at Bella and Emma Stone’s performance. I hesitate to use the word fearless (unless it’s Tom Cruise) since it’s just acting, but the word applies to Ms. Stone here. Supporting work comes from Christopher Abbott, Margaret Qualley, Ramy Yussef, Jarrod Carmichael, Hannah Schygulla, and Kathryn Hunter, while Mark Ruffalo revels in flashing his comedic chops.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan interjects black and white for effect and makes good use of the fish-eye lens. Production Designers James Price and Shona Heath get creative with set pieces, especially the cruise ship and brothel, and Costume Designer Holly Waddington nearly steals the spotlight with Bella’s outfits, which are always a bit exaggerated. The music adds a specific element and works quite well, and there is a truly awesome dance scene. Yorgos Lanthimos again earns the title Master of Strangeness with this outlandish film with bits from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Young Frankenstein (a common thread). The film is somehow both extremely funny and severely disturbing, and is an example of good people trying to come to grips with the realization that people often do bad things. My only complaint is the film features what are possibly the worst closing credits ever.

Opening in theaters on December 8, 2023

David Ferguson
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