Poor Things Movie Review
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Poor Things (2023) is a coming to maturity tale from the perspective of reanimated Bella Baxter. Delicate sensibilities need not apply.
Bella (Emma Stone) is the living science project of one Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), a renowned surgeon who is the result of several experiments performed on him by his own father, resulting in some grotesque deformities and daily habits that require medical and outside intervention. Bella is a grown woman with the brain of an infant, and the backstory unfolds over the course of the film. As she quickly matures, she finds the confines of Dr Baxter’s home and laboratory stifling and agrees to see the world with the Baxter family attorney, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo). This launches Bella’s education across the world as an intelligent woman of the Victorian Age, whose experiences are met and matched solely by her station in life and her cash flow. Bella’s enthusiasm for experiencing all sorts of mental and physical stimulation is thoroughly explored.
Here I must warn you, you will see far more of Mark Ruffalo, who plays a decadent dandy than you thought possible.
As Bella leads her life, she finds that not knowing what is and isn’t expected of her is freeing and that shame is a heavy wet cloak you are forced to wear by others.
I still don’t know how I feel about Poor Things, only that at no time was I ever bored. Bella’s adventures, starting small with trips to the roof before ending up destitute in France are all organic follies and the darkly comic undertone prevents the movie from becoming too heavy or preachy. Emma Stone injects the perfect balance of innocence and intellectual curiosity, approaching everything with the wide-eyed wonder of a small child, and she’s willing to try anything once.
Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Duncan Wedderburn is as slimy as it is funny. Playing a man used to getting what he wants, or whining until he does, Ruffalo merely nibbles at the scenery. It’s not quite over the top, but it is scene-stealing. Willem Dafoe lets his makeup do the talking but still manages to humanize a Frankenstein’s Monster, as a brilliant man so detached from compassion, everything is an experiment to be theorized, studied, and dispatched if necessary.
It’s such an odd film, it’s almost charming.
There is a lot of sex in Poor Things, so I wouldn’t call it a first-date movie. It also doesn’t cast men in a particularly favorable light when it comes to all of the sex, so if you’re super sensitive about that, maybe sit this one out.
Yorgos Lanthimos is no stranger to the oddly beautiful, and the location and Bella’s costume choices made for Poor Things sheds light on the journey he’s crafted for her. From the multi-layered pouf of her infant stage to the more creatively severe cut of her gowns and pantsuits towards the end, Yorgos allows everything that Bella touches to grow and mature with her.
Poor Things was my first Yorgos Lanthimos film, and while I’m not quite ready to run out and see the rest, I’m very interested to see where he goes from here.
Poor Things (2023) is Rated R for swears, lots and lots of naked bodies and sexytime, bathroom humor, Victorian medical experiments, death, and Willem Dafoe burping fart bubbles.