"Poor Things" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Without a doubt, Yorgos Lanthimos's "Poor Things" is the weirdest, horniest, and wildest movie of the year, but it is also simply a fantastically beautiful modern Frankenstein tale. This film has Emma Stone at her best, and Lanthimos at his bravest. Because of that, this movie is played out in an unrelenting way, not being shy to hide anything, which allows it to present this wild story on the screen. While it tackles major issues that are present in the world today, it also shows this beautiful tale of a woman being forced to start from the beginning and grow up in this twisted and sick world, not allowing anything or anybody to stop her.
Bella Baxter (Stone) is a creation of Dr. Godwin Baxter's (Willem Dafoe), a disfigured scientist who wants to play the role of God and bring his own creation to life. Taking the shell of a body who committed suicide and replacing her brain with that of her unborn infant's, Bella was born, an infant in a fully-grown woman's body. Baxter recruits one of his students, named Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), to keep track of Bella's progress, as she is evolving and growing every single day.
However, when Bella starts to mature sexually, she discovers needs she can't have fulfilled at home, urging her to run off with bachelor Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo). What she embarks on is a journey around the world, where she meets numerous different people, explores her sexuality, and finds herself for the woman she is becoming. By doing this though, she is undermining and frustrating the men who want to control her as they have never met a woman like Bella Baxter.
This film is unlike any you have seen in the past twenty years. From the way Lanthimos directs his cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, he shows this unique and fascinating world he has crafted. We get close-ups, long shots, fishbowl shots, keyhole shots, and so much more. At the same time, Lanthimos is simply not doing this to demonstrate the multiple ways you can shoot films, but represent the way Bella feels in these situations. At the same time, I really appreciate the way Lanthimos switched from black-and-white to color after the first thirty minutes of the film. It is obvious he took inspiration from the switch to technicolor that "The Wizard of Oz" did over 80-years-ago, with Bella going into her Oz-like journey into the shift to color.
Lanthimos crafts a brilliant screenplay off the novel of the same name by Alasdair Gray, with elements that make it both hilarious and borderline terrifying. He crafts Bella as such a lovable character that we can't relate to, but we want to succeed. This is a big challenge for any filmmaker as if the audience can't relate to the main character, it makes them less likely to root for this character and have an emotional connection with them. But he is able to take these minor, male characters and create these demeaning and misogynistic personalities for them.
Stone is fantastic. This is easily one of the best performances she has ever given, and this is one of those unique experiences where you see the character and not Stone. In fact, after a while, you don't even realize that you're watching Stone on the screen. She is able to play this character that isn't mentally disabled like some of the characters ask about throughout the movie, but she is simply playing a child on screen; she's great at it. She perhaps plays a better child in film that some child actors do. However, she doesn't play a child for long she is simply evolving as a character in front of our very eyes. We see this progression of a character in two and a half hours, and she does it perfectly.
At the same time, the minor character performances are great. Dafoe plays a fantastically dark and twisted man, one that is supposedly resembling Frankenstein's monster if he was a genius. Youssef's performance is perhaps the only character besides Stone that is very lovable. He just has that face and demeanor that simply makes you fall in love with his character and the chemistry he and Stone have on the screen. But, when we get to the antagonists, Ruffalo is excellent. He portrays this horn-dog that is simply a horrible person who only cares about himself. This is different compared to many characters he has portrayed before, but he does such a good job being this evil person. While there are other characters that have decent performances by Christopher Abbott, Jerrod Carmichael, and Hanna Schygulla, they don't stand out as much as the three I previously mentioned.
The one complaint I do have with this movie is when once Lanthimos moves his film into the latter half, there are quite a few lulls and the movie slows down a whole lot. Consider the segment where Bella becomes an escort to make some money to get home. I understand what Lanthimos was going for, but this segment was just way too long and could have been constructed much better as a montage, in my opinion. I also really do enjoy the scenes after when she returns home, but there are parts that could have been concluded much quicker than Lanthimos did.
This is easily one of the most unique and odd movies of the past few years, but Lanthimos makes it work perfectly. Stone and Lanthimos are at their best here, and the movie is so inspiring and hauntingly touches on multiple aspects that are present in the world today. This is such an important film that should be seen by lots of people as it simply shows the state of the world through an innocent and youthful perspective, such as Bella's. Lanthimos easily made one of his best films yet, and I know he is going to stay on top of his game going forward.