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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

Poor Things - Emma Stone shines in this horny Frankenstein coming-of-age tale

5 out of 5



Well, here we are, my first review of a new release of 2024 and I could not think of a better film to start the year with. Not much to say here folks except, have you seen Poor Things? And it's another 5 out of 5!


To say that Yorgos Lanthimos makes idiosyncratic films is an understatement. Between 2016's The Lobster and 2018's The Favourite, Lanthimos mines the depths of deep-felt human pathos, via absurdist premises and sharp, but ultimately eyebrow-raising humour. The same could be said about his new endeavour, Poor Things.


Based on the novel of the same name by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things tells the story of a young woman called Bella (Emma Stone). She has the brain of an infant but the body of a fully developed woman due to being brought back to life by surgeon, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). After showing promising signs in her development and an insatiable curiosity about the outside world, Baxter and his assistant Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) reluctantly let their stepdaughter and betrothed go to experience the world.

Despite its oddball premise, Poor Things remarkably proves to be Lanthimos’s most emotionally accessible film. This comes from screenwriter, Tony McNamara who leans into Bella’s innocence. Despite difficulties early on, there’s a persistent sense of awe in the way that characters perceive her. This later turns into a sheer giddy joy and heartbreak of experiencing Bella’s relatable emotions in discovering the world. The highlight being is when she discovers the notion of poverty in quite a stark manner. The operatic music (courtesy of musician, Jerskin Fendrix) stands in for the character’s shrieks of horror and disgust at the unfairness she sees first-hand.


At the same time, Lanthimos’s direction evokes Bella’s eagerness for the world via wondrous low-angle shots that reveal quite an enriching set design that’s like a Frankenstein-esque melding of Lemony Snicket, early Tim Burton and steam-punk. This is contrasted with a seedy use of fish-eye lens shots that almost distort the world and make me feel like someone was constantly watching Bella through a peephole.


By the same token, Lanthimos’s trademark absurdist humour is still on full display. A recurring fart joke and Bella’s pointed childish naming of adult activities never fails to amuse. And in perhaps the most darkly pitched comedic notes, Max’s persistent sense of bemusement at Godwin’s horrific stories is a highlight.

Dafoe turns in a subtle turn as Baxter who constantly battles his emotions as a loving father and a curious academic. Mark Ruffalo is charming as a cad and a rogue English gentleman called Duncan Wedderburn, whose pristine social standing is always at odds with his private inclinations. However, Emma Stone delivers a memorable central performance that’s particularly impressive in its vocal elements. This comes from how the actress portrays Bella absorbing and dressing up in the accents she encounters, whilst never compromising the character’s sense of innocence and naivety (whilst in that vocal clothing). This is a very physical, very grounded performance. Stone has a terrific walk: just a touch of Frankenstein jerkiness showing as Bella tries to control limbs she isn’t used to, head always on a swivel as she tries to take in more and more of the ever-fascinating brand new world. Faced with something she doesn’t care for, she glares her giant eyes up from under dyed-black beetled brows and then, usually, punches it. “Bluh,” she says gleefully, if the thing in question bleeds.


Bella’s impulse to do the interesting thing leads her, in the final act of Poor Things, to investigate the life her body led before her child mind was implanted inside of it. This act is the weakest of the film by far, the point where the allegory becomes clunky rather than clever, the action takes a turn for the dull, and Bella more or less stops developing. It’s hard to avoid the sense that the movie could have ended twenty minutes earlier and be all the better for it.

Still, it is always joyful to watch Bella navigate her world: gorging on sugar pastries, swishing her hips in an avant-garde ballet of sorts, discussing the intricacies of consent with her clients. (Holly Waddington’s witty costumes are an especial pleasure, with their enormous ruffled collars framing Bella’s neck like a glam version of Frankenstein’s bolts.) Bella is an enormously lovable character, a fitting heart for this lovable movie from one of our prickliest directors.


Go see something new, brave and wonderful cinema

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