‘Poor Things’, Lanthimos’ most ambitious creation, bursts with bizarre opulence

“Poor Things” (2023) – “Who are you?  Who, who, who, who?” – “Who Are You” (1978) by “The Who”

“What’s going on?  What’s going on?  What’s going on?  What’s going on?” – “What’s Going On” (1971) by Marvin Gaye

Meet Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), an attractive 30-something.  She lives in a posh abode, about the size of a city block – in 19th-century London.  Bella is unmarried but lives with Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), presumably her father, but our heroine refers to him as “God,” an ironic moniker because the man’s face is an unholy mess.

God carries horrible scars, as if he regularly shaves with shards of broken glass, but he’s not a monster.  He’s a surgeon and teaches various techniques with cadavers in front of crowded, intriguing audiences. 

He cares for Bella but isn’t a trained psychologist.  However, the woman needs one because she acts like an unruly maniac.  Bella smashes dishes or spits out her food when instant gratification isn’t met.

God, who exudes Dr. Moreau or Dr. Frankenstein vibes, sports an odd, fatherly connection with Bella, and it’s impossible to ignore the nagging feeling that the good doctor brings his work home. 

Who are you, Bella?  What is going on?

Director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster” (2016), “The Favourite” (2018)) doesn’t keep us in suspense for too long.  Twenty-three minutes into his latest mind-bender, the wildly imaginative director reveals both questions.  Over the next 118 minutes, he grabs his camera and follows Bella on her journey.

“Poor Things”, Yorgos’ most ambitious movie, bursts with bizarre opulence. 

It’s essentially a road-trip movie, a strange and hilarious one, and Emma is his muse in a film that should garner a barrel of Oscar nominations, including Best Actress, two Best Supporting Actor nods, Best Director, and Best Picture, in this critic’s opinion.

The picture’s primary hook is the aforementioned admission, 23 minutes in, and then following Bella’s external and internal trips of discovery, not only experiencing production designers Shona Heath and James Price’s visual smorgasbord for the senses but our heroine’s psychological travels. 

Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan shadow Bella to various European locales (which will not be named in this review), complete with sightseeing and fine dining in the wealthiest spaces.  The wonderous sound stages offer an illustrative mashup of “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) and Caesars Palace’s The Forum Shops with convex blue-sky ceilings, minus the Lululemon and Nike stores, naturally. 

Bella chassés to one particular, beautiful city center but also wanders into the seediest corners, and she’s sans yoga leggings and Air Jordans in the 19th century.

Stone delivers a slam-dunk performance, as Yorgos asks her to stretch – emotionally and physically – into Bella’s elastic exploration – with frank observations and spot-on comedic delivery – that is infinitely more complex and intricate than her Oscar-winning turn in “La La Land” (2016).  Stone has excelled in comedies before – like in “Superbad” (2007), “Easy A” (2010), and Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” (2018) – but we’ve never seen Stone this vulnerable and equally courageous on-screen (at least, I haven’t), including Bella’s sexual escapades, primarily with a debonair socialite, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo).  Ruffalo is an absolute riot, as Duncan frequently grapples with Bella’s inexplicable mindset beneath her gorgeous arm-candy wrapping.

Yes, “Poor Things” earns its R-rating in spades, and this is not a movie for easily-offended or family-oriented audiences.  However, brave, enthusiastic moviegoers – who love challenges, a plethora of unpredictable sights, and a soaring, whimsical story arc with a disturbing foundation – will undoubtedly cash in.

Don’t ask questions before stepping into the theatre, including inquiries about Bella’s first-act disclosure.  Discover who Bella is and what’s going on – for the first time – while this cinematic phenomenon of riches pours off the screen.

⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by:  Tony McNamara, based on Alasdair Gray’s novel

Starring:  Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Suzy Bemba, and Jerrod Carmichael

Runtime: 141 minutes

Rated: R

Image credits: Searchlight Pictures

Related posts

Leave a Comment