Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos are raking in the awards for this one, but should they be? Yes.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo
Running time: 141 minutes
It’s safe to say Poor Things starts weirdly: Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter runs around the house smashing plates and gouging out the eyeballs of the deceased; Jerskin Fendrix’s wailing score (which is pitch perfect from start to finish) lulls the audience into an eerie haze; and the half-dog, half-duck creations of Willem Dafoe’s Dr. Godwin Baxter potter about the garden with all the joy of a Frankensteined pig-chicken in muck.
Yet it’s this strangeness that makes Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest comedy-drama such a breath of fresh air, a deranged delight that has been lapped up by awards jurors, critics and audiences since it arrived on the festival circuit midway through last year.
It’s a truly rare occurrence to sit down in a cinema and think, while a film is still playing, ‘I genuinely haven’t seen anything like this before.’ But Poor Things, through its unwavering commitment to its vision, achieves exactly this - and deserves all of its acclaim as a result.
However, this tale, which follows Bella, a young woman who is brought back to life with the brain of an infant and discovers, well, life for the first time, isn’t just strangeness for strangeness’ sake.
Poor Things starts weirdly, and it ends weirdly, and it weirdly travels from one to the other - but it’s a truly singular triumph as a result
Well, okay, in some cases it is - and Lanthimos and his team clearly delight in playing around in this unique universe that blends historic and futuristic elements, brought to life by stunning work from the set builders, costume designers and wider production team - but below the bizarre surface is a study of what it means to exist in a flawed but fun, frightening but fascinating world.
As Bella navigates her new existence, bumping heads with Mark Ruffalo’s gloriously goofy and irritatingly insecure bachelor Duncan Wedderburn, debating philosophy with Jerrod Carmichael’s smooth-talking Harry Astley and receiving unlikely counsel from Kathryn Hunter’s eccentric brothel owner Swiney, this film uses unexpected avenues to ask unexpectedly tough questions, with Stone’s transformative leading performance stitching everything together.
Rarely has a character undergone such a clear evolution as this, a point which could potentially spell for some on-the-nose storytelling - but the Oscar winner’s central turn makes every phase of Bella’s progression interesting and believable. It’s no surprise that she’s already taken home several top prizes, and you'd expect plenty more to come.
So, yes, Poor Things starts weirdly, and it ends weirdly, and it weirdly travels from one to the other - but it’s a truly singular triumph as a result. Believe the hype, soak in the strangeness, and expect great things to follow.
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