Poor Things, 2003,
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Kathryn Hunter, Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael.
The incredible tale about the fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter.
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most singular voices in cinema with his blend of dark humour and shocking imagery, as witnessed with the likes of Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Favourite. He reunites with his Favourite star Emma Stone for an outlandish adaptation of Alisdair Gray’s novel Poor Things. This is Lanthimos’s first feature in five years so anticipation is naturally high but does it meet the lofty expectations?
A period piece, this is a female reimaging of Frankenstein with Stone playing Bella Baxter, a young woman who Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) brings to life. Initially focused on her development alongside Godwin, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual liberation alongside Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo).
Despite rapid development, Bella is prone to childlike tantrums, spitting out food and throwing plates on the floor. To Stone’s credit, she effortlessly manages to capture the inner child in Bella but also a a maturing woman keen to explore the world around her, speaking pidgin English initially, before gradually forming into full sentences.
The tone is wild and full of graphic imagery that may surprise some with plenty of racy sequences, but these never prove distracting and once acclimatised to some of its more absurdist nature, audiences will find themselves enthralled in Bella’s journey. This is easily one of the funniest films Lanthimos has made with the whole cast committing themselves. Ruffalo especially is a riot, cast against type while Dafoe is an eerie presence equal parts hilarious and disgusting. Kathryn Hunter on quite the run after scene-stealing turns in Andor and Macbeth is once again a perfect fit for this type of fantastical content, in a brief but memorable role.
Poor Things walks a thin line between gross-out comedy and heartfelt drama but manages to find the right balance, due to its source material and the performances. The second half loses some of its more absurdist elements but will retain the audience’s attention.
From a production perspective, this is a gorgeously constructed picture with immaculate set design and visuals that help it lean into some of its more shocking imagery and humour. There is almost a whiff of Wes Anderson here although tonally this doesn’t feel in keeping with his work in quite the same way. The production design lends Lisbon and Paris an almost steam-punk feeling, contrasting Victorian London and the Baxter’s home. This is an innovative, wholly original piece of work that does justice to its acclaimed source material and is well worth the wait for fans of its Director.
Some of its tone and visuals may not sit well with all viewers but it is clear from the outset that this is the vision of a unique voice, who continues to redefine the medium of cinema. Emma Stone delivers some of her best work since La La Land and looks set to feature prominently in awards season, abd Dafoe and Ruffalo may also be in contention for their performances. Its excess may grate on some but many are likely to be enamoured with Poor Things.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★