Review: Poor Things

Poor Things - Emma Stone

The new film by Yorgos Lanthimos is already winning awards.

What’s Going On?

Unusual scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter creates a “Frankenstein’s Monster” type creature in Bella, bringing in Max as his assistant to help chronicle her development. At first, Bella knows only a handful of words and can barely walk but makes huge progress each and every day, becoming a fascinated and fascinating person.

In Front Of the Camera

The Epic Beauty of Poor Things
The Epic Beauty of Poor Things // credit: Searchlight Pictures

Emma Stone is cast as Bella in what is surely one of the greatest performances in an already incredibly impressive career. Mark Ruffalo is having a fantastic time as all-round unpleasant cad Duncan Wedderburn who falls for Bella, getting her interest with the opportunity of exploring the world. The wild swings of mood and attitude of Wedderburn are a wonder to behold. Willem Defoe is brilliant, as one would expect, the doctor who has suffered so much, including from those who should have loved him, and brings new life into the world. Godwin constantly battles with his paternal feelings for Bella, chastising any emotional influence as unworthy of science. Finally the main cast is Max McCandles played by Ramy Youssef, perhaps the most normal person of the characters, who goes through the film appalled by Godwin, Wedderburn and more for their lack of morality. There is a great deal of high philosophical discussions on morality in this movie but McCandles is the most obviously kind.

Behind The Scenes

Poor Things, Searchlight Pictures
Ruffalo giving his best cad look // Credit: Poor Things, Searchlight Pictures

Yorgos Lanthimos has had a string of critical triumphs, The Favourite, The Lobster, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and going back to his earlier, edgier work like Dogtooth. Lanthimos’ films have a reputation for being weird – and even The Favourite which could have been a more typical period drama-comedy is distinctly odd.

The film is based on a book by Alasdair Gray, a noted Scottish writer, with Tony McNamara credited as a writer of the screenplay. McNamara has worked with Lanthimos before on The Favourite and created the comedy-drama TV show The Great.

Does It Work?

 Poor Things, Searchlight Pictures
Bella and Duncan dancing // Credit: Poor Things, Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things is a wonderful, beautiful, filthy, depressing, uplifting riot of a film. There are few films where the utterance of the line “I am going to punch that baby” are middling amongst its outrages. It is hard to imagine what more there is to ask from Emma Stone who in this film displays the joy of mere existence, the turmoil and contradictions of love – both romantic and familial, the grief of losing those close to you, of never knowing those who could have been close to you. Stone goes through experiences of food, sex, pain, and pleasure, discovering these things and understanding them.

Bella Baxter does not ask for or demand freedom but simply states it, she will do as she will, it is an inevitability that she will be free. Freedom is a strong feeling in so many characters, Godwin for so long protected Bella from the outside world and cannot argue against a person saying they want to leave and exert that right. Freedom for oneself and freedom from society are strong themes in the film, with “polite society” constantly being run down. Bella considers herself free to leave, to travel, to love, to have sex, to not have sex and her run-ins with people who feel differently are eventful to say the least.

Dr Godwin and Bella // Credit: Poor Things
Dr Godwin and Bella // Credit: Poor Things, Searchlight Pictures

The film looks beautiful with exquisite buildings and interiors and at times resembles what Wes Anderson would come up with if he got more into urban fantasy. There are not enough words to convey how amazing Bella’s outfits are, and the costumes of others are not terribly far behind. The world they exist in, with London and Lisbon etc is our world but with a bit more magic and colour in it.

It would be fair to say this film is not going to be for everyone. It is exceedingly weird, deals with any number of traumatic and difficult issues, features frequent graphic sex and as already mentioned Bella threatens to punch a baby. But for those who have enjoyed Lanthimos’ previous films or like weird cinema, this is a fabulous film. It is two hours of frantic joyful madness mixed with heartbreaking sadness.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Also Read: Review: The Favourite

Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.