Wednesday, April 24, 2024

“POOR THINGS”

THE STORY – Brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist, a young woman runs off with a lawyer on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, she grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.

THE CAST – Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Christopher Abbott & Jerrod Carmichael

THE TEAM – Yorgos Lanthimos (Director) & Tony McNamara (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 141 Minutes


Yorgos Lanthimos’ eclectic filmography unabashedly refuses to engage with normality, and it is all the better for it. Between the weirdly romantic “The Lobster” and the brazenly brilliant “The Favourite,” his absurdist storytelling is never short of compelling at the very minimum. His latest, “Poor Things”, is no different. Existing in a strange, abstract universe to our own, Lanthimos’ brilliantly bonkers newest entrant into his filmography is a wild, stylish, devilishly entertaining feast for the eyes that playfully interprets “Frankenstein’s Monster” mythology with a sense of panache, twisting it into a unique and gleefully macabre Victorian era parable for the patriarchal tendencies of man.

Adapted from Alisdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name, we open with a woman (Emma Stone) mysteriously plunging herself to the kippers below. We then snap to a disfigured surgeon, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe, struggling to nail down a Scottish brogue), removing organs from a cadaver. After asking his students to return the organs to their correct locations, he requests the presence of student Max McCandless (Ramy Youseff) to accompany him home. There, he introduces Max to Bella Baxter (Emma Stone also), who has the mannerisms and emotional range of a toddler. Describing her nonchalantly as a ‘beautiful retard’ – one of the many uncomfortably sinister comments made by the men in the story – he’s soon told that he has reanimated Bella from suicide and, in the process, becoming her own mother and her own daughter after Godwin transplants the brain of the deceased woman and replacing it with that of the fetus inside her. Weird doesn’t begin to cover the bizarro science behind “Poor Things.”

As Max spends time with the juvenile Bella, he (grossly) falls in love with her. Godwin brings in lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) to draw up a contract for their marriage, preventing Bella from ever escaping the imprisonment of marriage, her spirit locked away in Godwin’s grand home. The immature, childlike Bella has ambitions and aspirations bigger than the confining shackles of men bring, and after finding herself desiring sexual contact – she refers to the masturbation she performs as ‘giving herself happiness’ – runs off with Duncan, a slimy fuckboy gambling addict, promising to return to Max. She begins exploring the world, soon discovering the cruelty of a society that hasn’t had the opportunity to derail her moral compass.

Dealing with the grimness of the patriarchy has been a common topic for filmmakers over recent years, with the likes of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” dominating conversation both in Oscar nominations and dialogue about feminism on screen. It’ll be no surprise when “Poor Things” receives similar backlash from a conglomerate of rabid men who cannot take criticism levied at their practices. Max and Duncan both embody the fetishization men have of women who have sexual maturity but have childlike mannerisms, wanting to discard Bella as she gains maturity and autonomy. Godwin takes on the father role, describing his paternal instincts as almost stronger than his pained eunuch inability to have sex with Bella, who has her own child’s brain inside her.

“Poor Things” will require rewatching, not just to discern more of the brutally sly digs taken towards the patriarchy or its splendid visuals, but also because of its brazenness to openly discuss female sexuality and sex work as topics that shouldn’t be taboo. The film is told all from the point of view of Bella, who doesn’t understand why her childlike wonder is being extinguished by the men in her life who impose their bastardized version of polite society on her, shown through the dream-scape nightmare from returning cinematographer Robbie Ryan “The Favourite.” His hellish, lurid visuals make the film feel like you’re walking through traffic in high heels, discombobulated by its use of fish-eye style lens’, intermittent black and white photography, and animals spliced together like a figment of a child’s wild imagination.

None of this works without Emma Stone’s magnetic performance as Bella. Her youthful naivety is excruciating to experience as we see her being taken advantage of and, until her departure, the film deigns to let you get comfortable. But as Bella matures away from a character that is both freed and held captive by her own pure innocence, her journey into an autonomous woman becomes one that is sweet and oddly romantic.

The supporting cast are all game, even if Mark Ruffalo’s philandering sleazeball chews up several later scenes, threatening to capsize a film already dangling on the precipice of becoming a farce. Dafoe and Youseff are both excellent in their respective roles, with Dafoe’s attempt at a Glaswegian dialect a weird little oddity. Christopher Abbot appears late in the film as a lover, becoming a horrid manifestation of male entitlement, as does Margaret Qualley in a small but effective role as a ‘new Bella’ for Max and Godwin to play with under the disguise of science. Brief but shining was Jerrod Carmichael as a resident on a boat they travel on, who informs Bella of the world’s cruelty.

At this point in his career, Lanthimos must be having such fun creating these weird, off-kilter, grand character dramas, which translates onto the screen. Bursting at the seams with dark cynicism for the patriarchy, this uniquely bizarre patriarchal takedown and re-interpretation of “Frankenstein’s Monster” is as wicked as it is hilarious and is sure to ruffle a few feathers.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The whole film is wonderfully, bizarrely unique, and Emma Stone's performance as Bella is extraordinary. Films tackling the patriarchy are never this strange, and it's refreshing to see it handled in a new, outlandish way.

THE BAD - The first half an hour is an excruciatingly difficult watch, and Willem Dafoe's attempt at a Scottish accent is odd. Mark Ruffalo chews on so much scenery that it almost capsizes.

THE OSCARS - Best Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling & Best Production Design (Won), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing & Best Original Score (Nominated)

THE FINAL SCORE - 9/10

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>The whole film is wonderfully, bizarrely unique, and Emma Stone's performance as Bella is extraordinary. Films tackling the patriarchy are never this strange, and it's refreshing to see it handled in a new, outlandish way.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The first half an hour is an excruciatingly difficult watch, and Willem Dafoe's attempt at a Scottish accent is odd. Mark Ruffalo chews on so much scenery that it almost capsizes.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-actress/">Best Actress</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-costume-design/">Best Costume Design</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-makeup-and-hairstyling/">Best Makeup and Hairstyling</a> & <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-production-design/">Best Production Design</a> (Won), <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-picture/">Best Picture</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-director/">Best Director</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actor/">Best Supporting Actor</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-adapted-screenplay/">Best Adapted Screenplay</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-cinematography/">Best Cinematography</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-film-editing/">Best Film Editing</a> & <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-original-score/">Best Original Score</a> (Nominated)<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>9/10<br><br>"POOR THINGS"