Poor Things Review: Emma Stone’s Genre-Bending Dramedy Is A Beautifully Funny Ode To Curiosity And Independence

Director Yorgos Lanthimos isn’t a stranger to the world of the weird cinema. From his breakout hit Dogtooth all the way to The Favourite, the man has dealt with pitch black comedies that dig into the human experience through uniquely outlandish angles. Lanthimos and writer Tony McNamara have moved into an even more ridiculous setting than their previous film together with their adaptation of Poor Things, based on the book of the same name by author Alasdair Gray.

Poor Things

Emma Stone in Poor Things.

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Release Date: December 8, 2023
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written By: Tony McNamara
Starring: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Christopher Abbott, Suzy Bemba, Jerrod Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter, Vicki Pepperdine, Margaret Qualley, and Hanna Schygulla
Rating: R, for strong and pervasive sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing material, gore, and language
Runtime: 141 minutes

While that much is true, the story being told is one of great warmth and tremendous humor, bending genre with an ensemble led by a forceful Emma Stone. In a tale that’s adjacent to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we’re introduced to Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), a mad scientist who revives Bella Baxter (Stone) after her death. 

Much like that classic monster story, we see Bella growing in intellect and curiosity and eventually venturing out into a world that looks like a Wes Anderson or Tim Burton-inspired landscape. Don’t let that description fool you though, as Poor Things doesn’t use that scenery as a mere shorthand for tone. 

Through his usage of this palette, Yorgos Lanthimos actually feels beguiled by that aesthetic, giving us worlds of wondrous visuals that aren’t just being quirky for the sake of being “different.” With performances that are as colorful as the backdrops the characters inhabit, this tale of self-discovery and knowledge really shines for the audience that seeks it – especially when you could consider Poor Things to be one of the raunchiest mad science/fairy tale movies you could expect.

Poor Things is a frank and funny exploration of self-fulfillment that is also a gorgeous, leisurely paced slice of life.

A picture that truly earns its R-rating, Poor Things is an extremely frank and funny look at Bella Baxter’s maturation, both in mind and body. As a result, the film is very open in terms of discussing and depicting the subject of sexuality. That feels pretty rare at times in current cinema, and it’s even rarer when the subject that gets to delve into these pitfalls and perils is a lead other than a “traditional” male protagonist.

Never feeling leering or salacious past the point of good humor, Poor Things is more in line with a gorgeous and leisurely paced slice of life, of which sex happens to play a major part. In her journey throughout the world, Emma Stone’s protagonist gets to explore the various corners of the human condition and almost always on her terms. It’s that approach that actually helps amp up the humorous nature of this plot rather than taking a left turn into dour and grim territory, merely to challenge Bella’s resolve. 

While there are obstacles, setbacks, and some moments of painful knowledge, Bella Baxter’s travels aren’t weighed down by many serious matters. At the same time, the levity of Poor Things’ universe allows the story to shine even brighter. It’s not always bright colored skies and quick witted ribaldry, as there are still moments where by expanding her knowledge of the world, Bella meets some of its ugliest parts. Good times or bad, the path is consistently entertaining, accompanied by sparkling wit and great humanity. 

Emma Stone’s tremendous performance anchors this all star cast, with a hysterical Mark Ruffalo almost stealing the show.

Watching Bella Baxter “grow up” (for lack of a better term) is a joy to behold throughout Poor Things, thanks to Emma Stone and her tremendous performance. Progressing through the stages of her second life as Dr. Godwin’s creation, Bella is a bit of a mystery, especially when it comes to the circumstances of her death. Starting from square one, we’re essentially seeing a child in an adult’s body stumbling through the world as any of us would. The only difference is, Stone’s character is a creation of science. 

It seems like an actor’s dream to play though such a role, and Emma Stone is in fine form in her turn. Once her interpretation of Bella gets to the point where she can really use her acidic tongue and inquisitive mind to their full potential, the fun really begins, as Stone, following The Favourite, once again showcases how much her talents thrive under Lanthimos’ direction and with McNamara’s words. 

While this is indeed Emma’s show, and the impressive cast of Poor Things does also boast the likes of Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichal, and Kathryn Hunter, there’s one participant that’s the MVP of the supporting lineup. Mark Ruffalo plays the foppish Duncan Wedderburn, and he delightfully relishes the role.

Portraying a cad of the highest degree, Ruffalo’s smiles, sneers, and schemes are a great counterweight to Emma Stone’s defiance of convention. Much like his co-sar, Ruffalo clearly digs the Yorgos Lanthimos way of filmmaking, and his Poor Things antagonist is such a slimy charmer who, in any given moment is impossible to side with or against. His spinless nature leads to an wonderufl performance that helps color this world and Bella’s journey in all the right ways. 

Poor Things just might be Yorgos Lanthimos and Tony McNamara’s warmest film yet, making us think and feel like the best movies should.

For a film that deals with heavy subjects like suicide, injustice, and sexuality, Poor Things is actually quite uplifting. In fact, it’s Yorgos Lanthimos and Tony McNamara’s warmest film yet. Subtly getting its point across, the film is a prime case for letting your audience be entertained while a great deal lurks under the uproariously funny surface. 

It’s visually stunning, but this isn’t merely an exercise in libertine delights, using any excuse it can to throw nudity or choice expletives into the mix. Though Poor Things does feature such content throughout, it’s never without purpose or reasoning that benefits Bella Baxter’s progression. Much as Lanthimos has done in the past, such traditionally titillating content is used as more of a statement instead of as debauchery.

Building its bones on a concept that would have been worthy of a classic horror film, Poor Things shows us not a monster but a life. It takes the time to show Bella’s personality, resulting in a journey that is a globe-trotting quest for self-actualization. The means of her creation don’t matter in the end because Bella Baxter becomes a person through and through. 

While fairy tales are mostly consigned to the realm of family-based entertainment, adults have just as much of a need for fantasies that take broad swings in rich colorful worlds teaching us to be a bit kinder to ourselves while pushing forward. Poor Things is that sort of movie.


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