[MOVIE REVIEW] Poor Things features absurd plot and absurdly good acting

POOR THINGS. The film follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a newborn babys brain inside a full-grown womans body, and her process of learning everything about the world. (Fair Use Image: Searchlight Pictures press release)
POOR THINGS. The film follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a newborn baby’s brain inside a full-grown woman’s body, and her process of learning everything about the world. (Fair Use Image: Searchlight Pictures press release)

Some movies are absurd. Some movies are smart. Very few movies are both, but Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things manages to pull it off. The film is set in a twisted fantastical sci-fi version of Europe, spanning London, Lisbon, Alexandria and Paris. The film follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a newborn baby’s brain inside a full-grown woman’s body, and her process of learning everything about the world, from trying alcohol and sex to discovering love, passion, fear and greed. The film is inspired by countless other works, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its many adaptations, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
The beginning of the movie shows Godwin Baxter (William Dafoe) performing surgery on a dead pregnant woman, moving the brain of the baby into the body of the woman and bringing her back to life. This creation becomes Bella Baxter. Countless men try to manipulate and control Bella throughout the film, in countless different ways. Among these men are Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), Harry Astley (Jerrod Carmichael) and Alfie Blessington (Christopher Abbott). The film follows Bella and her adventure across Europe, following these men and learning about life.
The film aims to make the viewer question their own sexuality, faith, philosophy, emotional well-being, passions and love. We see all of these themes through Bella’s eyes, a being with child-like wonder, but also child-like stupidity. Her blind trust in people causes her problems, but also her inability to speak or act her truth. Throughout the film, we see Bella improve in the ways of speaking, walking, understanding and listening, just like a newborn baby would. Although the movie is very sexual, it portrays sex in a way to get the larger point of the film across. It is used to display Bella’s emotions, the means of other characters, and the tone of the film at that point.
The acting is generally great. Stone shines in her best performance since 2016’s La La Land, Dafoe is phenomenal, and Ruffalo and Youssef each deliver stellar performances. From a technical aspect, the film is also incredible. The set and costume design are some of the best of the year, because they perfectly transport the viewer to this absurd and fantastical world, and every detail is thought out to its fullest extent. The costume design feels like a mix of Victorian-era England and something from a Tim Burton film. The cinematography and sound design also excel. The cinematography features multiple fish-eye shots, widescale shots that were shot on a variety of cameras, and a mix of full-color shots accompanied by black-and-white shots.

In the end, the film does what it aims to do exceedingly well: tell a ridiculous story in a ridiculous world with great care and advanced themes.

From an awards standpoint, the film is set to do very well. It has already been nominated for a grand total of 10 Oscars including Best Picture, Production Design, Best Leading Actress (Stone) and Best Director. It is predicted to be a major contender for every award it was nominated for, and if all goes well, will be taking home an Oscar on March 10.
As far as what doesn’t work in the film, the list is very short. The main problem that could take the viewer out of the film is pure absurdity. It can be hard to fully empathize with Bella and the cast of characters when everything from the costumes to the way they speak to the cinematography is absurd. The fact that this is the main problem speaks volumes to the quality of this film. Every part of that issue was part of Yorgos Lanthimos’s vision for this movie, so it’s up to the viewer if it works for them or not.
In the end, the film does what it aims to do exceedingly well: tell a ridiculous story in a ridiculous world with great care and advanced themes. Viewers should jump at the opportunity to see this film whenever they have the chance, for it is truly an incredibly interesting and unique film.

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