Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Premise: An infant’s brain is implanted into the body of her recently deceased mother. As her mind develops she interrogates gender roles and her mother’s background.
What Works: Poor Things is a fantastic story that uses elements of fairytales and science fiction to dramatize a woman coming to terms with her existence. In some sense this is a coming-of-age tale but that label is too narrow to encapsulate everything Poor Things is doing. The novel premise primarily explores the female experience but Poor Things has implications for fundamental matters of identity. The conceit entertains the mind-body problem and the story addresses how sexuality, societal gender roles, and the biological fact of our bodies shapes who we are, the relationships we have, and the opportunities available to us. Bella, played by Emma Stone, had an intellectual but isolated upbringing and as a result she has not absorbed a sense of shame or boundaries. As a result, Bella often behaves in ways that are outrageous or unsocial but in the context of the film her behavior makes sense and exposes the irrational rules or stupid expectations that we otherwise take for granted. In the story’s final stretch, Bella confronts her mother’s history and reconciles what it means for her own identity. Poor Things takes on all of these heavy themes with a great deal of creativity and humor. The picture is extremely well produced with a unique look. The costumes and sets and makeup design are extremely well crafted to create a fully realized world. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who previously shot Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2018 film The Favourite, employs unusual lenses and angles in a way that highlights Bella’s experience and complements the world of the film. The cast is exceptional, especially Emma Stone as Bella. It’s a fearless performance and Stone throws herself into the role. Also notable are Willem Defoe as the mad scientist who creates her and Mark Ruffalo as an unscrupulous lawyer. They are both very funny but Defoe is also very empathetic and that’s one of Poor Things’ most outstanding qualities. The movie has ambitious scope and a wacky tone but it is also quite heartfelt and there is a human warmth at its center.
What Doesn’t: The only major flaw of Poor Things is a conflict that is introduced quite late into the film. The significance of this late reveal seems as though it deserves more screen time than it gets. This story development is important to Bella’s journey but the resolution of that conflict is a bit perfunctory.
Disc extras: In theaters.
Bottom Line: Poor Things is bold, thoughtful, and exceptionally well crafted. It’s a profound examination of what it is to be human and the film that benefits from multiple viewings as it offers so much to unpack. In several respects it overlaps with 2023’s Barbie but Poor Things explores similar territory much more thoughtfully and effectively.
Episode: #980 (January 14, 2024)