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Poor Things ★★★



Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef

Release: 12th January 2024

Who would have thought over a decade ago that Yorgos Lanthimos would become a household name in cinema? From his humble beginnings with Kinneta, Alps and Dogtooth, the Greek titan has grown from strength to strength. His English language films have always been the talk of the town with The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the Oscar-winning The Favourite. Collaboration is vital for Yorgos, and in recent years, Emma Stone seems to be the muse of his choosing. His latest film with Stone is Poor Things, based on the genius novel by Alistar Gray. After the film’s triumphant turn at the Venice Film Festival 2023, the Golden Lion film has lit up the earlier stages of awards season.

The film follows the tale and fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter (Stone), a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Under Baxter’s protection, Bella is eager to learn. Hungry for worldliness, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick, passionate lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.

Considering his provocative filmography, Yorgos Lanthimos seems to have got a bit tame. Poor Things feels lost within its opening hour and has no real path or depth. You are thrown into this black-and-white world where Lanthimos doesn’t know how to execute. From the sporadic fish-eye lens to the Frankestien’s monster-esk creatures, there is a sense of world-building, but it seems hollow. Understanding the trajectory of your characters is crucial for the cinematic experience to work, and Bella’s is quite unclear for some time. As she grows to understand her world and creator, you can sense the frustration in her, but Lanthimos paces it in such a dull manner. The production design is gloriously surreal, and this sense of distressing wanderlust is what kept me going to begin with.

The second half of Poor Things is where it indeed finds its stride and flourishes in a world of colour as Bella’s journey unfolds to get to the real fat of Yorogos’ vision. Her urge to see the world outside of her home and creator is one of debauchery, Portuguese tarts, self-discovery and humour. Once we are introduced to the fiendish Duncan Wedderburn, played marvellously by Mark Ruffalo, we see the curiosity within Bella develop. Travelling to foreign countries is always a considerable time for learning, and this is what we see. There is a dark underbelly to this highly sexual odyssey as Bella grows to learn more about herself and her sexuality. As Bella gazes into the wider world, she knows and understands who she wants to be.

Emma Stone’s performance is the crown jewel of Poor Things. She fully immerses herself into the mind of Bella Baxter and takes the audience on a journey with her. You can see why Lanthimos is getting the best out of her, but you do wish his direction earlier in the film would have engaged the audience more ruthlessly. Surrounding Stone with an A-list cast allows her character to blossom even more, particularly Mark Ruffalo. Between his comedic timing, expressive hand gestures and man-baby demeanour, he isn’t quite the man you want Bella to be with, but without his pathetic ways, Bella couldn’t flourish. Stone’s scenes with her creator, played by Willem Dafoe, never fully connect. There should be a lot more emotional weight to these moments, and while Stone and Dafoe deliver good line delivery, there is no real chemistry there, especially towards the end.

While Poor Things is getting wide acclaim across the board, it doesn’t fully cohesively work for me. Lanthimos is known to dare and provoke, but here, he doesn’t allow his inner weird to fully unlock. For a big prestige piece like this, engaging with your viewer is vital from beginning to end, and while this journey has some bizarre and compelling moments, it needs more depth.

Lover of all things indie and foreign language. Can be found rambling on YouTube at times!

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