Review: ‘Poor Things’ is Rich in Narrative and Talent

Yorgos Lanthimos has made quite a name for himself in Hollywood. Beginning his career in 2001 with the comedy film, My Best FriendLanthimos directed quite a few movies in the Greek film industry before the arrival of 2015’s The Lobster. It was this black comedy-drama film that put him on the global map, with his work being praised by critics and nominated for a slew of awards. Since The Lobster, the director has created hit after hit, with The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite, the latter of which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. Now, Yorgos Lanthimos has another award contender on his hands with Poor Things.

With a screenplay by Tony McNamara (The FavouriteThe Great), Poor Things reunites Emma Stone with both the writer and director in a film that critics and viewers can’t stop talking about. Searchlight Pictures has already made waves at the 80th Venice International Film Festival with this film, and the box office continues to grow, with many calling Poor Things one of the best projects Stone has done. With the wider release of this film finally here, it’s time to see what everyone is raving about. So, climb aboard as we set off into the magically whimsical world of Poor Things.

[Warning: Spoilers from Poor Things are below!]

Bella Baxter is tired of her life

Poor Things retells the classic Frankenstein tale, with Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter as the monster. However, she isn’t truly a monster, but a beautiful woman with the intellect of a young child, with little social interaction. Practically a prisoner at her father’s (Willem Dafoe) house in Victorian London, their connection to the outside world has been shut off. That is until Dr. Godwin Baxter invites one of his medical students, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), to be his assistant. From then on, Bella’s world is ripped wide open, and she will no longer be content with being stuck in a fantasy.

Emma Stone in POOR THINGS. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.
Emma Stone in POOR THINGS. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Max finds himself falling in love with the erratic Bella, who acts on pure instincts and lacks the higher thought for someone her age. Regardless, he’s charmed by her antics and confused about what led to her drastic situation. Throughout the film, the truth about who Bella Baxter is and how she arrived in God’s care is scattered throughout, however, Max discovers a version of the truth from the Doctor early on. 

Initially, Bella returns Max’s sentiments and agrees to marry him, but as her intellect grows, she begins to want more. Poor Things begins to explore the idea of autonomy as Bella craves to learn more about the world outside her home. So when Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) arrives on the Baxter’s doorstep, Bella seizes her opportunity and runs away with the manipulative lawyer. Where in the world is Bella headed? Everywhere, as she adventures the world, she grows through both sexual exploration and the pursuit of knowledge.

However, with all pursuits such as those, the more we learn about ourselves and the world, the less content we become with the state of society. Does Bella find happiness, or is she destined to search the world for something more? Poor Things explores this.

Ramy Youssef and Willem Dafoe in POOR THINGS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.
Ramy Youssef and Willem Dafoe in POOR THINGS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

The positives and negatives of Poor Things

I was once told that films from Yorgos Lanthimos are the movie version of an intense dreamscape, which is an apt way of describing Poor Things as well as Lanthimos’ style of filmmaking. The film has an overall sense of whimsy, which encapsulates the entire movie from start to finish. From the story to the sets and every direction in between, the story feels like a daydream that takes the audience on the prettiest and most jaw-dropping Frankenstein story I’ve ever witnessed, which is saying a lot with saying so little.

The story itself is magical because it takes such a basic concept and creates something extraordinarily out of the box. This is, in every sense of the word, a Frankenstein story, although the roles are essentially flipped from the traditional narrative. In the confines of the Baxter household, while Bella is the “monster,” her appearance is beautiful. However, her actions throughout the film go against what is considered right and moral. Masturbating at the kitchen table is taboo; who knew? However, her father, God, is the result of much experimentation, which impacts his appearance and functionality.

And yet, the true monsters in the film are those who have power and use that against the Baxters. The likes of Duncan and Bella’s husband Alfie (Christopher Abbott), from before her accident. These two individuals are criminals because of their status, which they use to abuse and manipulate those around them. Duncan is infatuated with Bella but doesn’t love her for her but instead for what she offers. She’s intoxicating because she’s a blank slate, and he sees an opportunity to place his desires onto her, such as tons of sex.

The true monsters in life are explored through Poor Things

Alfie, on the other hand, is the pure definition of abusive, who led to his wife’s suicide. He has no qualms about beating his wife and treating her like property. He’s monstrous in the horrid human way, which becomes the point of the film. The true monsters in life are those who use others for their gain, not those who view the world differently.

This view, along with the exploration of life through the eyes of Bella, is breathtaking. It’s a unique perspective that takes some time to get used to, but it is well worth the ride. Part of that exploration is through Bella’s sexual maturity, an all-important journey for all individuals. However, there are times when sex and nudity are used too much to sell the point. How many times does one have to be naked on screen before we come to understand their character growth? By no means am I a prude, but there is a time when it feels that it’s used as too much of a crutch on which the film resides.

That being said, Poor Things is one of the most beautiful stories, both narratively and visually. It was impressive to see a large number of practical set designs utilized, which feels almost foreign in the current landscape of Hollywood. Poor Things also uses color wonderfully, volleying between monochromatic designs reminiscent of the original Frankenstein and vibrant colors of a storybook world. Together, Poor Things brings alive a world that is as impressive as it is bleak, which is only highlighted by the excellent acting of everyone involved.

Poor Things is 100 percent Emma Stone’s film

Of those in the film, praise must go to Emma Stone, who carries this film on her back. This is 100 percent her film, and it would be nothing without the awkwardly confident Stone at the helm. Her characterization of Bella is superb as she goes from a lost girl to an otherworldly woman. There are moments in which Stone acts like a baby, which is just as difficult as the Bella we see in the end. This is easily one of Stone’s best performances, and it’s hard to imagine how she’ll top it. Honestly, she should be up for every award for Bella Baxter, and it would be a travesty if she isn’t.

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved
Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved

Along with Emma StoneMark Ruffalo is fantastic as the wickedly delightful Duncan Wedderburn. This role is so far out from the typical roles we see Ruffalo in, pushing the boundaries of his repertoire of heroes and love interests. Instead, he’s hilarious and jealous, with an evil streak a mile wide. It was enthralling to see him on screen, and he’s the perfect counterpart to the witty Stone, with some of the best scenes being when the two of them are together.

Final thoughts on Poor Things

I can understand why critics and audiences alike are raving about this film. Poor Things is an excellent motion picture piece that pays homage to the yesteryears of the silver screen. Emma Stone is a marvel, with a fantastic cast to round out the film. The story is exceptional, although it features more nudity than is necessary to get the message at the center of Poor Things across. While this might not be a film for the entire family, nor is it a popcorn film, Poor Things is a great arthouse film that makes you think about the forest and not just the trees. With the wider release, it’s now the perfect time to see Poor Things before it leaves theaters.

Poor Things is now in theaters.

You can learn more about the film, including how to buy tickets, by visiting the Searchlight Pictures website for the title. 

Have you watched Poor Things yet? What did you think? Leave us a comment below to join the conversation or connect with us on X @MoviesWeTexted.

If you’re interested in another perspective on Poor Things, check out Russell Miller’s review of the film. Aayush Sharma also shared his thoughts on Poor Things.

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