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  • Nate Adams

'Poor Things' review: Emma Stone dazzles in a bizarre and wondrous fairytale


Courtesy of Searchlight

 

Yorgos Lanthimos has always been an exceptional storyteller. His subversion of genre troupes and traditional studio movie making puts him in rare company where he’s able to lure audiences with intriguing premises, “The Lobster,” and its idiosyncratic view on life after death comes to mind, and then he just cooks for two hours. In Lanthimos’ latest venture, “Poor Things,” the filmmaker enlists “The Favourite” muse Emma Stone for another award worthy turn playing Bella Baxter, an innocent vessel concocted in a lab who is not only discovering the world for the first time, but her sexual liberation too. It makes for a fantastical odyssey that’s brimming with style (the use of a fish eyed lens has rarely been used as perfectly), hallucinatory imagery, and dark humor while also providing an intoxicating playground for the actors to get lost in.


Adapted from Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel by Tony McNamara, this wild and sometimes completely depraved fable follows Bella on her journey of self-actualization. She was created in a lab by deformed scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxer (Willem Dafoe - having the time of his life) to be studied and admired after he found her corpse washed up on a river. He was able to revive the body using means of scientific ingenuity, which, in this case, involved the implantation of a child’s brain. From there, we get to see the world through the innocent lens of someone filled with endless questions about the various states of existence (among other things).  

 

And yet Bella doesn’t know what she doesn’t know and, to everyone around her, is mostly seen as an object of lust and desire. Dr. Baxter is keen to pawn her off on one of his students Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) for research, and rich aristocrat/lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (played with delectable menace by Mark Ruffalo), who has come sniffing around for several reasons, sees Bella as a beacon of sexual promiscuity. Bella, for the record, enjoys sex, which she hilariously calls “furious jumping,” and doesn’t waste a second when Mr. Wedderburn offers to take her on a globe-trotting adventure even though he wrongfully assumes he’ll be able to contain her wild antics and non-stop libido.  

 

That’s Lanthimos for you, a weird and eccentric filmmaker drawn to the idea of making audiences feel a little uncomfortable and, oddly enough, connected with Bella through her highly sexualized escapades. Stone, to her credit, goes through an insane on-screen transformation: where, in the beginning, everyone assumes Bella won’t be a problem, but her lack of social cues and desire for human acceptance renders her a loose cannon that even Duncan Wedderburn, a world class, Grade-A womanizer, can’t handle.


Stone is sensational as she evolves between sequences, going from speaking in borderline incomprehensible childish sentences to sophisticated dissections of culture and race. Eventually, she’s using complete phrases, has learned to walk, think, read, and even philosophize with her fellow travelers. Never once does she consider what the fallout could be from spouting offensive jargon, because Bella calls the world as she, herself, perceives it to be, and it’s one of the most refreshing character traits put on screens this year. 

 

Working alongside production designers James Price and Shona Heath, with costumes by Holly Waddington, and cinematographer Robbi Ryan, Lanthimos has built a disorienting locale for Bella (and the audience) to explore. It yields some gorgeous imagery that has a distinct visual language not far removed from the filmmakers previous efforts. 

 

Though Stone is the heart and soul of “Poor Things,” don’t take for granted the hilarious, unhinged performance of Mark Ruffalo who so rarely gets to flex his comedic chops at this scale. He’s just another piece of this wonderful, bizarre, and abstract puzzle Lanthimos has built around the wide-eyed wonder of Bella’s perception. We could all learn a thing or two about ourselves from her steadfast and authentic personality. 


Grade: A 


POOR THINGS is now playing in select theaters and opens nationwide December 22nd.  


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