Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Poor Things - Review


There are certainly going to be some surprised audience members this holiday season when it comes to Poor Things. For those unfamiliar with the dark, slightly twisted mind of director Yorgos Lanthimos, the shock of the sensibilities of this satirical affair are bound to confuse a multitude of individuals expecting a fun, perhaps weird, Emma Stone comedy. But, for those ready to get lost in the surreal world that Lanthimos and crew have crafted, you just might experience one of the best films of 2023.

Brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist (Willem Dafoe), a young woman, Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), runs off with a lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, she grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.

Set in a fantastical 19th century, the story is essentially a twist on the well known take of Frankenstein, with Willem Dafoe taking the role of the famous mad scientist and Emma Stone his odd creation. But there are no angry mobs, no hunt for the monster through the city streets, but instead an adventure across land and sea to experience all the world has to offer. It’s a tale of self-discovery, the nature and desires of humanity on full display for the intrepid protagonist to see, and experience herself in every definition. 

In more careless hands, this story would fall dangerously flat. But Yorgos Lanthimos fills it with actors that are perfectly suited to sell this with relative ease. As a smarmy, misogynistic lawyer, Mark Ruffalo brings the whiny and slimy energy that’s needed to move Stone’s Bella Baxter forward. And the inherit oddities of Willem Dafoe only further establish his Godwin Baxter as the eccentric scientist that starts all of this with his his generally horrific creations. 

But the true star is naturally Emma Stone. Her prowess as an actress has never really been doubted, but Stone brings it all to the table here. As the film progresses through various states of mental maturity and new ideologies, Stone evolves the character to match, both in large and subtle ways. It’s a role that will earn her another Oscar nomination, maybe even a second win if things fall into place.

The visuals of a Lanthimos picture are always fascinating. In Poor Things, they take a new, unique path from his past outings. Whereas the other films in his filmography are still attached, even if it’s barely, to a world that we know, but this film fully embraces the fantastical. The surrealist, picturesque, and sometimes grotesque, settings are dripping with style and flair that few films this year could even hope to match. Aided by some award worthy cinematography from Robbie Ryan, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more dazzling film in 2023.

Some experiences come along every year that are nearly impossible to put into words. For 2023, Poor Things fits that bill. No matter what you read or hear about its tone and themes, the final product is still a sight to behold. When it inevitably receives its allotment of Oscar nominations in a few months time, the response from those unfamiliar with what they’re getting into is going to be just as entertaining as the film itself, and I, for one, can’t wait to see just how people react to this incredible film.

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