Poor Things Review
Poor Things (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, written by Tony McNamara and Alasdair Gray and starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Vicki Pepperdine, Kathryn Hunter, Jack Barton, Charlie Hiscock, Margaret Qualley, Carminho, Attila Dobai, Kate Handford, Zen Joshua Poisson and Jerrod Carmichael.
Let’s get this out of the way first. Poor Things is not quite on the level of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ terrific masterpieces, Dogtooth or The Favourite. However, in his new film, Lanthimos takes the audiences to interesting, uncharted and, undeniably, creepy territory in a picture which doesn’t shy away from explicit sexuality or some of the hard possibilities of science. Emma Stone is tremendous in the movie but that comes as no surprise. We all saw Cruella, right? However, Stone takes some serious artistic risks in her performance here which many other actresses would have definitely shied away from. No other director can do twisted sex scenes like Lanthimos and Poor Things is one of the most prestigious movies of the year. It will undoubtedly garner some serious Oscar nods come nomination time.
Willem Dafoe plays a scarred scientist named Dr. Godwin Baxter who creates a peculiar woman in an experimental fashion a la Frankenstein. A pregnant woman (Stone) dives into her death and Baxter takes the brain of her unborn baby and places it in the head of the dead woman. Godwin calls her Bella. Ramy Youssef, in an excellent turn, serves as one of Godwin’s colleagues, Max, who becomes embroiled in a form of companionship with the attractive Bella. She is a child-like adult who walks oddly and has a very unusual, immature way of thinking. When Bella meets a lawyer named Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), Bella’s world changes. Duncan seduces her and the pair get into some heavy “jumping” in bed. The sex is explicit and hilarious as Bella falls for Duncan.
The problem is that Bella can’t successfully run in Duncan’s social circles. She’s simply not sophisticated enough. She speaks her mind, however unusual her thoughts are and embarrasses him. Some hilarious parts of the movie feature the great Vicki Pepperdine’s aptly named character, Mrs. Prim who Bella asks if she pleases herself sexually. Things really spiral out of control, though, when Bella makes an attempt to donate some of Duncan’s money to some poor people. As they seem to become broke, Bella has no choice but to try to make money and she finds out from the local Madam, Swiney (a tremendous Kathryn Hunter), that she can have sex for cash which leads to some hilarious exchanges with some rather odd every day johns.
While the sequences in the brothel are very sexually explicit, they are undeniably some of the best scenes in the picture. One john climaxes in a matter of seconds, while another smells very bad. There are some of these guys who make Bella cherish her great sex with Duncan. But, when Bella gets out of line, Swiney bites her in a graphic moment where the money hungry Madam tries to teach her a lesson. Hunter is amazing in her brief turn where she adds some ferocious hilarity to her oddball character.
Emma Stone relishes this role. She literally leaps into the part and comes up with her most fascinating performance to date. Bella is creepy but there’s a sex appeal that she has which is undeniable. Almost every man at the brothel chooses her which makes her think up crazy scenarios that drive Swiney crazy like having the prostitutes pick the men they want to sleep with rather than allowing the men to pick the women they want to have sex with. Stone makes her character feel like a hero even though she can be an imbecile at times.
As the plot gets more advanced, a surprise character who knows Bella in her original form pops up. Watch to see what happens to him! This movie takes a few detours in its plot which leaves the audience scratching its head in wonder to just how far Lanthimos will go to be different. For example, it boggles the mind why Duncan would want to be near Bella when he probably could get any woman he wanted. But, Ruffalo is astonishingly good in the part, making the audience feel a bit sorry for him when he seems to have lost everything thanks to his association with the, at times, dim-witted Bella.
Dafoe is destined for an Oscar nomination for his very creative performance in the picture. The makeup artists have done a tremendous job bringing to life the character of Godwin. He feels like something straight out of an old classic horror movie. Margaret Qualley, on the other hand, is almost completely wasted as another experimental creation of a woman who doesn’t have anything close to the character traits that make Bella likable to a fault.
Lanthimos has done better work than this. The Favourite was a sensational piece of film-making which also featured a classic Stone performance. It just felt that there was a lot more dramatic substance in that 2018 picture than anything found in Poor Things. That’s because Poor Things mostly plays like a comedy. Admittedly, it’s a dark, twisted comedy but it needed a bit more of a sharper edge to be fully successful from a dramatic standpoint. There are themes that get lost in the shuffle here that shouldn’t. Things seem to fall into place too easily at the end. Dogtooth proved Lanthimos is at his best when his plots aren’t neat and tidy.
Still, Poor Things is a lavishly made picture. Its costumes, cinematography, art direction, makeup, etc are all of the highest caliber. Stone probably has never been more at home than in her absurd work in this film. She makes the audience respect her by the film’s ending scenes which isn’t easy given the obscurities of the character. Who am I fooling? Yorgos Lanthimos can do no wrong. Despite its flaws, Poor Things is the most bizarre fun you’ll have at the movies this year and that’s more than enough to get it into the Oscar race for Best Picture.
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