Poor Things (Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe) – It’s this year’s “What’s all the fuss about?” movie. It’s weird. It’s bizarre. It’s marginally pornographic. It has beautiful costumes, incredible photography, amazing set design, unbelievable make-up, and a strange musical score. The acting is over the top … purposely.
Directed by Oscar nominee Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster) and starring Oscar winner Emma Stone, 3-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo and 4-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, Poor Things is awful.
In many ways, it’s Frankenstein. A brilliant, demonic, hideous-looking surgeon, Dr. Godwin Baxter (God, for short), raises a “retarded” girl as a daughter. He is working to heal and teach her. She is robot-like in mannerisms and intellect when we meet her. But as she learns and matures, she starts to think on her own and seeks more worldly pursuits. As presented by Lanthimos and Stone, Bella (as in Bela Lugosi, the screen Dracula) is particularly taken with her budding sexuality. The surgeon wants her to marry his student, Max (Ramy Youssef), who must agree to live with her at Baxter’s home and meet numerous other stipulations.
A contract is drawn up by Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), who soon takes advantage of the neophyte and whisks her away for a transcontinental cruise of Europe. What he really wants is sex – lots of it. And she obliges, wondering why people don’t do this “vigorous jumping” all the time. As their relationship deteriorates and Duncan becomes more possessive, Bella gets even more adventurous and curious.
She sees poor people in Alexandria, which ignites her recently emergent empathy, resulting in her giving away Duncan’s money. Kicked off the cruise in Marseilles for failure to pay, the couple eventually ends up broke in Paris. In need of money, clueless Bella ends up outside a whorehouse, where she is promptly recruited as a prostitute, which she finds educational and, by her own admission, strangely enjoyable. It takes quite a while before she tires of it and has a “happy” experience with one of her sister whores.
Finally, she receives a letter from Max telling her that “God” is dying. She heads back to London to care for him and marry Max, having rid herself of Duncan. In case you don’t follow my advice and actually see this movie, I will avoid spoiling the surprises, which just make the movie even more ridiculous.
Seeing all of Emma Stone … many times … takes some of the joy out of La La Land and her other impressive films. Critics laud her performance as “brave” because of her avid willingness to be naked for much of the movie. And since she is one of the producers of Poor Things, she obviously made a conscious choice to bear all. It’s not the only nudity in the film, and I don’t know why this only got an R rating. Don’t take the kids.
If you want to see Frankenstein’s monster having sex, this is your movie. I can’t agree with critics who praise the film for being about female liberation in Victorian times. I haven’t (and won’t) read the 1992 book by Alasdair Gray on which the film is based, but I doubt that it was mostly a sex novel.
Critics love Poor Things. I doubt you will. But don’t be surprised if Stone, Ruffalo, Dafoe and Lanthimos get Oscar nominations. It got seven Golden Globe nominations and seems to be this year’s arthouse favorite. In a world where Everything Everywhere All at Once can win Best Picture, Poor Things fits right in.
If you like weird movies, are intrigued by seeing Stone au natural, or can’t wait to see Willem Dafoe in makeup that makes him look like Frankenstein’s monster, by all means see Poor Things. But remember I warned you.