Poor Things (2023)
Poor Things (2023)

Genre: Fantasy and Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 21 min.

Release Date: December 8th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Actors: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, Vicki Pepperdine, Jerrod Carmichael, Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott

 


 

F

ate brings the recently deceased body of a young woman to brilliant surgeon Dr. Godwin “God” Baxter (Willem Dafoe), who employs his exceptional skills to reanimate the corpse as a new girl, “Bella” (Emma Stone). Though beginning with limited motor skills and mental capacity, Bella quickly grows more and more curious about her captive residence within God’s house, as well as the mysterious world outside. In need of help, Baxter hires one of his students, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), to keep track of Bella’s developmental progress, while also convincing the young man to seek Bella’s hand in marriage. But when rakish lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) spies the audacious and inquisitive woman, he convinces her to run off to Lisbon with him on an adventure of general debauchery. Recklessly agreeing, Bella traverses Portugal, Greece, and Paris on a dizzying journey of sexual and intellectual awakening.

It’s all instantly odd, peppered with discordant music and sounds, a copious amount of fisheye lenses, a shift from color to black-and-white (and back again), Godwin’s comically disfigured visage, and a dog with a goose head sewn onto it. Director Yorgos Lanthimos clearly enjoys a certain type of peculiarity or eeriness as he channels “Frankenstein Created Woman” and “Flesh for Frankenstein” with the infusion of uncomfortable gore and aberrant behavior. Adding in plenty of visual hilarity and a keen mix of poetic observations and frank vulgarities gives “Poor Things” a unique edge, though it soon becomes apparent that the filmmaker’s borrowing of concepts from countless other properties borders on conspicuously derivative. “What a very pretty retard.”

It’s alternately whimsical and morbid as it delves into a steampunk-like vision of science-fiction that dispenses with eye-popping technological advancements for the sake of studying human sexuality. Problematically, as it crosses “Edward Scissorhands” with “Dead Ringers,” touches upon Pinocchio as if he was the lascivious explorer from “Candy” (1968), and merges the laughs of “Young Frankenstein” with “Frankenhooker” and “Re-Animator,” the commentary on human nature tends to get lost. Rather than picking a specific notion to bend and twist into an unexpected adaptation, “Poor Things” is overflowing with subplots, which leads to a considerable amount of dawdling and repetition; ideas are hammered home rather than subtly glimpsed. “Good god!”

As Bella navigates the adventure of life as if an alien visitor unfamiliar with the ways of human motivations and emotions, perhaps like Tarzan or Nell (or Tom Hanks’ Josh from “Big”), the preoccupation with masturbation and intercourse are so significant that they begin to drown out everything else. Untamable free will, a humorous sense of exploration, embracing new experiences, undergoing a mental (and physical) evolution, commiserating with intense suffering (and understanding class rifts), and steering through the gamut of social conduct in a skewed romantic-comedy formula are often potent elements, even if they’re overpowered by sex and nudity. All of the satire, the ominous drama, and the absurdist exchanges might still have worked, but the seemingly interminable running time ensures that the effective sequences are dulled by the ineffective ones. When it’s good, it’s very good; but when it’s meandering, it does so far too evidently.

“Money is its own form of sickness.” Though “Poor Things” is strikingly outlandish and fantastical, armed with top-notch performances and a witty script, the cleverness is simply too buried beneath an overwrought story. Curious costumes, lyrical metaphors, and bodily grotesqueries (poaching too much from Cronenberg, perhaps) are ingredients to an intermittently exciting melange, but the consistency in tone and purpose and entertainment value are disappointingly erratic.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10