Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest deranged fairytale is finally coming to UK cinemas. Here’s our Poor Things review.
Poor Things could easily be a Disney film. You know, if it wasn’t for all the graphic sex and debauchery. Our heroine, Bella Baxter (played impeccably by Emma Stone) goes on a journey of self-discovery and liberation not unlike a typical princess flick. It could teach young girls a thing or two about autonomy and independence.
The film is the latest delightfully unhinged creation from Stone, director Yorgos Lanthimos and writer Tony McNamara, who all collaborated on The Favourite back in 2018. Poor Things is based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name and the film is like a completely twisted, rip-roaringly funny version of any coming-of-age story.
Bella Baxter is the ward of Dr Godwin Baxter, who rescued her after a suicide attempt, but Bella now seems to have the mind of a child. She develops fast in the care of the good doctor (God for short), and his student Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef). Bella craves independence and soon discovers intimacy and sexual pleasure, but often forgets that it’s not appropriate to shove your fingers inside yourself at the dinner table. We’ve all been there, really.
Bella becomes increasingly rebellious and runs off with lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo, a hoot). Duncan’s attempts to control and tame his new companion are met with only more rebellion and attitude as Bella learns about the world and herself during their travels.
Poor Things has recently been in the headlines after the BBFC forced Lanthimos to re-edit a scene towards the end of the film. In it, a father visits a Paris brothel with his two sons and the BBFC had, understandably, some qualms over the scene where sexual activity is happening in front of children.
The scene has since been recut for the UK release, but it is to be said, Poor Things is very graphic. If you thought Saltburn was awkward to watch with your nan, Poor Things takes it to a completely new level. Good luck explaining to your grandparents what all this “furious jumping” is (although, the fact you exist to talk to them at all implies they might have some idea).
That being said, Poor Things is a masterpiece. It’s Lanthimos’ most complete, in-control film where every piece falls into place in a thoroughly satisfying manner. This is spectacular, singular filmmaking. There’s an unusual elegance and grace to the otherwise pleasingly chaotic film; Robbie Ryan’s eclectic cinematography parallels Bella’s journey nicely, and while Lanthimos focuses on the carnality of Bella’s journey, there’s nothing vulgar or grotesque about Poor Things.
Many aspects of the film should make you uncomfortable, but sexuality isn’t one of the elements that is designed with shock factor in mind. Bella discovers sexual pleasure like most of us do – by accident. Although Duncan quickly develops into the film’s villain, it’s easy to see why Bella would run away with him. A) he has the face of Mark Ruffalo, and B) Duncan treats Bella as her own person instead of a strange lab experiment or a child in need of parenting.
Stone has never been better than she is here. While her Oscar-winning performance in La La Land was nuanced and graceful, here she completely lets go of any ego, any inhibitions and disappears into Bella. It’s a fearless performance, but not because of the required nudity. In Poor Things, Stone creates a rich portrait of a girl and a woman, trying to find herself and her place in the chaotic, violent world around her.
It’s still a shame that most stories about women seem to be awarded to men to tell, but Poor Things demonstrates that Lanthimos has a deep understanding of his craft and of storytelling. It’s truly a masterful film and an early favourite for the best of the year.
Poor Things is in UK cinemas 12th January.