NOW IN THEATERS! Yorgos Lanthimos is a master of absurdist storytelling. In his latest cinematic offering, Poor Things, Lanthimos offers up a most demented and delicious cinematic bonbon. Based on the profoundly satirical novel of the same name by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things concerns the growth and development of one Bella Baxter (Emma Stone). Bella is the creation of Dr. Godwin Baxter (a gloriously dyspeptic Willem Dafoe). She has the fully matured physique of a woman yet has the speech and gross motor capabilities of a toddler. Introduced as his latest experiment to his student and protégé Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), Bella is to be observed by McCandles on Dr. Baxter’s behalf.
Things seem to be moving and developing nicely, until chance requires the employment of a solicitor. Enter contract specialist Duncan Wedderburn (a delightful Mark Ruffalo). As he is setting into form the contract which will enable the rest of Bella’s future, Wedderburn being the scandalous and scabrous slimeball he is, tempts Bella with the prospect of a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Having been isolated at Dr. Baxter’s house her entire existence, Bella leaps at the opportunity to run away with Wedderburn. Thus, Bella’s story takes off into a loopy, sexy, wild adventure across Europe.
I found Poor Things to be a richly textured tapestry for Lanthimos’ most absurd and bonker ideas to be thrust forth. Much of this is demonstrated through the developmental arc of Bella’s physicality. Starting out wobbly as a toddler in the first act, becoming a clumsy teenager by the time Duncan and her are at sea, and maturing into full feminine grace and movement during the sequence in Paris, Stone’s portrayal of Bella is frankly a revelation. While she did wonderful work as a scheming social climber in The Favorite (2018), Stone’s performance as Bella Baxter takes on infinitely weirder and more delightful dimensions as she portrays a woman lacking the social filter popularized in the Victorian age.
“…Bella’s story takes off into a loopy, sexy, wild adventure across Europe.”
The performances in this film are generally fantastic. Ramy Youssef brings earnestness and open-mindedness to Max McCandles, which effectively sets him as a warm person. Ruffalo’s Wedderburn is so wonderfully slimy. He embodies everything about a lawyer, which makes people tell lawyer jokes. An aura of noxiousness surrounds every scene he’s in; I loved it. Willem Dafoe is frankly great in everything he’s ever appeared in. His decidedly Scottish Dr. Baxter is equally potent. I loved the well-time belches, manifesting as gas bubbles floating in the air.
No film is simply defined by its direction, story, or acting. The world built for Poor Things must also be considered. Robbie Ryan, Lanthimos’ now preferred cinematographer, has created an off-center perspective for the camera work. Flitting in aspect ratio and lens type, the film keeps you engaged by not providing you with a smooth or contoured image to focus upon. Instead, one must follow the wide shot, which transitions to a fish-eye lens, which then transfers to a rack angle, etc., et al. Ryan is perfectly disposed to provide such wild cinematography.
Breathing deranged life into the proceedings is Jerskin Fendrix’s score. The halting, screeching string instruments, blended masterfully with the operatic, melodious crescendos, give a certain pompous bombasticality that captures the essence of Poor Things very well. I loved every weird arpeggio and unexpected horn blast; truly a joy to experience.
Yorgos Lanthimos has carved a niche for himself, providing surreal, absurdist fantasy fare. Poor Things is no exception. Were it not for the lurid and frequent depictions of sexuality, I would suggest this is a film for all audiences. Rather, this is a film every American above 18 years of age should experience. A true cinematic gem. If it’s a rather kinky one.
"…a richly textured tapestry..."