ReviewsMovies

Feminist Frankenstein: ‘Poor Things’ Packs Big Laughs, Bigger Messages

Emma Stone shines in film bogged down by third-act lectures on the Patriarchy

How many movies will be ruined by the filmmakers’ ideology before the woke fever breaks?

“Poor Things” teeters on that very edge, and it’s a shame given our quest for original storytelling.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos uncorks a wildly original Frankenstein re-imagining with a canvas unlike any we’ve seen before.

The film’s third act drowns in feminist messaging, turning one of the year’s creative triumphs into a maddening waste of time, resources and the remarkable Emma Stone.

POOR THINGS | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures

Stone plays Bella Baxter, the fantastical creation of Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), or “God” as Bella affectionately calls him. She’s a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, stitcher together with a brain that’s anything but “Abbie-Normal.”

That noggin is young and vital, allowing Bella to evolve from a grunting Neanderthal into a droll soul with a penchant for philosophy. Her beauty allows her entry into polite society where she scorns every cultural norm and attracts the attention of Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo, over the top and loving it).

He’s smitten, no doubt, and she’s happy to use him for plenty of “jumping” — her term for wild intercourse. She’s not satisfied, though, and every time Duncan tries to tame Bella she fights back even harder.

Along the way, she teaches us all a lesson about the evil patriarchy and the quest for sex-positive empower—get the picture?

Poor Things Movie Clip - That Seems Low (2023)

Modern storytellers don’t trust audiences to make the necessary connections. They lecture and finger wag, making sure there’s no one in the theater who misses the message on colorful display.

Not even the guy slinging popcorn.

The Future Is Female. Down with the Patriarchy. It’s like the Women’s March circa 2017-2020. And there’s little wrong with this brand of storytelling.

Films offer a powerful medium to make audiences ponder new or existing philosophies. Would anyone argue women were societally speaking, equal to men in the 19th century?

Of course not, and a film set in that era has every right to explore it. That’s precisely what “Poor Things “does for much of its running time. The story works on dual tracks. Bella’s unfiltered speech shows how much we self-censor in the company of others.

Duncan wants to keep her under his thumb, where she can neither thrive nor grow into the person she’s fully capable of being.

The screenplay all but shouts this long after we’ve processed the message on our own.

Writer Tony McNamara and co. created a throwback yarn with anachronistic flashes that confuse and dazzle. The story is set in the late 1800s yet we see blimp-like vehicles dotting the sky like a blast from the future.

Even the dialogue sounds alternately archaic and modern, further pushing audiences out of our comfort zone.

It works. Mostly.

So do the scrumptious visuals, which start in serene black and white but flower into dazzling rainbow swatches.

Lanthimos’ lens uses every trick to warp and extend the frame, turning mundane shots into mesmerizing snippets meant to keep us off balance. No two scenes look alike, but they’re all united by a consistent vision.

“Poor Things” is a Frankenstein’s monster of styles and sounds that walks and talks with purpose. At times it even gallops.

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Poor Things (@poorthingsfilm)

Stone is spectacular in a showy performance that never wears out its welcome. She’s sexy and guarded, confused and certain. Yet her character arc feels trapped by the filmmakers’ vision. This isn’t a character evolving organically but someone living out an ideology.

The film finds Stone in various states of undress and committed to serial on-screen sex in ways we rarely see these days. The effect isn’t shocking, and it’s certainly not meant to be titillating.

It’s more TED Talk than R-rated romp, one suggesting women can sell their bodies without peddling off pieces of their souls.

Life suggests otherwise.

Yet “Poor Things” is chronically funny, from its odd collection of profanity or the visual gags that land with force. Few comedies bring merriment quite like Stone and her co-horts, yet the film’s waning moments leave a bitter aftertaste when we’re meant to feel empowered.

A third-act twist is initially rewarding, but it gives way to a resolution that’s nonsensical and cruel on several fronts.

Ramy Youssef plays the most emasculated male character in ages, yet we’re informed he’s meant to be a paragon of sorts.

Dafoe’s character could have helped unite the film’s disparate elements. Instead, he’s just another freak in the director’s carnival, his humanity stripped away just when we need it the most.

End of TED talk.

HiT or Miss: “Poor Things” is partly one of the year’s most powerful films and an example of how doctrinaire thinking can spoil the best cinematic trips.

11 Comments

  1. Believe me Christian, I’m so sick and tired of Yorgos Lanthimos. He’s nothing more than a political activist, who only cares about, ‘THE MESSAGE’. No wonder Disney likes him, and he keeps getting work for their Searchlight Pictures division.

  2. Unfiltered Leftism, Sex, and Lectures. The Leftist basket of contradictions. The characters say things to make themselves feel better about their exploitation of their depraved choices. If only she had an Only Fans account in the old days.

    Should be watched with “Three Thousand Years of Longing”

  3. What’s bothering me is, how developed is her brain when she starts having all this sex if she..
    *SPOILERS*
    ~~~~~
    ..starts with the brain of a baby? I’m not one of those “but the prefrontal cortex isn’t developed until the age of 25!” people, but I hope that by the time she’s having debaucherous sex, her brain has reached the level of development that coincides with Tanner Stage IV or higher in physical development. Otherwise it’s just.. woodchipper.

    1. I agree. It’s actually one of the more disturbing aspects of the film that my mind keeps coming back to. It’s literally some sort of male fantasy of a child brain in a woman’s body. Even if she’s no longer a baby it’s 100% she’s definitely extremely childlike and arguably not close to beyond teen years. Wonder if that has anything to do with why they set it in the 1800s, when a young girl being married off was probably more socially acceptable.

      1. I found the film brimming with feminist messaging (both fine and wildly overplayed). My wife, who doesn’t share my politics and would consider herself feminist-adjacent, recoiled at the normalizing of sex work…

  4. I’ll lead with this: I know very little about Emma Stone in real life. But, to me, she seems (seemed?) like a beautiful, charming woman- the kind I would quickly have developed a celebrity crush on in days past.

    All that said, this film seems like a gross project. I’m not a critic like Christian and the guys who run this site, so I can’t speak to the artistic aspects of the film, but- a movie about a guy having sex with a female Frankenstein? This is what Stone decides to star in?

    Definitely made me realize the picture I had of her was inaccurate.

    1. Definitely definitely don’t see it, then. You might be traumatized. It’s pretty much a perfect commentary on current society. Gorgeously impressive on the outside to the degree of artificiality and devoid of any scruples or soul at its core Highbrow art house pornography. What you would come to expect from Defoe nowadays.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button