Poor Things Review

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Poor Things is a cinematic experience not quite like any other. That’s not to say you can’t draw parallels to other classic stories about reanimation like Frankenstein. It also won’t come as a surprise that this surreal masterstroke comes from Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously brought us The Lobster and The Favourite. Aesthetically and thematically, though, Poor Things is a concoction of ingredients that transcends all known tastes. The film isn’t grounded in science, fantasy, the past, the present, or the future. Yet, it manages to encompass all of the above. It finds honesty in the most unrelatable circumstances, as if we’re looking into a bizarro reflection of our world.

Few actresses have taken more chances over the past decade than Emma Stone. In Poor Things, she delivers a performance that might win her another Oscar, but it just as easily could’ve won her a Razzie with the wrong direction. Stone plays Bella Baxter. At least that’s the name that Willem Dafoe’s mad yet compassionate scientist gives her. Dr. Godwin Baxter has the twisted mind of Victor Frankenstein and the twisted face of Frankenstein’s monster. Discovering a woman fresh off a suicide, Godwin takes the body back to his lab. The woman was with child when she plunged to her death, giving Godwin what he thinks is an inspired idea. He takes the unborn child’s brain, puts it in the mother’s head, and lets electricity do the rest.

Bella moves and talks like an infant trapped in a grown woman’s body. That’s because she is, although she develops faster than Godwin expects. It isn’t long until Bella is exploring her body, inquiring if a young student played by Ramy Youssef will explore it with her. Stone’s performance strikes a tricky balance between being childishly naïve and highly observant. Experiencing everything for the first time, Bella’s life is nonstop sensory overload, but she absorbs the world around her without ever taking a breath. Watching Stone in the role is like going through a semester of acting classes in two hours. It starts with movement exercises, but by the end, it’s practically Shakespearean.

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Only able to soak up so much in the fishbowl that is Godwin’s mansion, Bella sets out on a liberating odyssey. She’s accompanied by a sleazy lawyer named Duncan Wedderburn, played by a deliciously despicable Mark Ruffalo. Duncan thinks that he’s taking advantage of Bella, and to an extent, he definitely is. Bella is also taking Duncan for a ride, though, sometimes using her body and other times using her mind. Either way, it always feels like Bella is in control, even when she doesn’t entirely grasp the concept at hand.

Lanthimos and his production design team have created a world that looks like a living painting. At times, the world can come off as almost abstract, akin to the backdrops you’d find in a stage play. Yet, there’s still a vast scale to every set piece, which grows more colorful as Bella travels further. Tony McNamara’s screenplay is plentiful with quirky dialogue, but it’s the visual storytelling is where Poor Things comes to life. The film’s mythology simultaneously feels intricately mapped out and improvised, as if we’re watching a mad genius assemble his masterpiece from random parts. You may not understand every creative decision, but after a while, you stop asking questions. You just go with the flow, embracing every strange character, every offbeat line delivery, and every oddly poignant moment that bleeds with humanity.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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