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‘Poor Things’ Had This Critic Pining for the Exits

Frankenstein update pummels audience with debauchery sans the human element

Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” has a great deal of personality, marches boldly in unexpected directions and features imagery that I sometimes revisit in my daydreams.

It’s also an ugly, irritating work that wore me down early, all but daring me to walk out. In full disclosure, I’ve never walked out of a movie and wasn’t about to start with this one…but man, the inviting green glow of that EXIT door was awfully tempting.

Ostensibly a re-telling of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” Willem Dafoe plays a mad scientist who “creates” a young woman named Bella, whose brain…actually, I’ll leave the specifics for the audience to discover. The logic of how Bella is “reborn” is truly off-putting, less a provocation and more of a sick joke about how humans start and end their lives as infants.

POOR THINGS | In Theaters December 8 | Searchlight Pictures

Once Bella (Emma Stone) is loose in the world, taken under by a nasty, horny man about town named Duncan (Mark Ruffalo, fighting hard against the miscasting), she becomes sexually active, informed on matters of human misery and able to think independently.

This latter quality is what brings Duncan into a state of panic.

Like Lanthimos’ “The Lobster,” I wanted to embrace all this just-go-with-it weirdness and casual sadism but found everything too self-consciously artsy and grotesque. When Bella gets a job at a brothel, the film lingers on every single bedroom assignment.

It’s ugly and hardly the commentary on empowerment the film seems to think it is. Likewise, every scene where Dafoe vomits up a bubble that floats around his kitchen table – some may laugh at the whimsy of it, but I found it revolting.

That just about sums up my feelings for the film overall.

There’s also the music score, which sounds like out-of-tune instruments scraping against one another.

POOR THINGS | “You’re In My Sun” Clip | Searchlight Pictures

There are dreamlike environments here that are beautiful to behold, especially on the big screen. Stone appears as a grown woman on the outside but playing someone who we watch age mentally from infant to womanhood, which is impressive. Ruffalo makes the most of his comic opportunities, though his most memorable lines are look-at-me vulgar.

I admittedly was intrigued and riveted for the entirety of Lanthomis’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017), though I doubt I’d ever sit through it again. Likewise, Lanthimos’ acclaimed “The Favourite” (2018).

RELATED: ‘POOR THINGS’ – A SECOND OPINION

I’m a big fan of the more surreal, challenging works of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, but their films, even at their harshest moments, draw in me with character, exploratory filmmaking and ideas. With Lanthimos, I dig the ferocious approach to his artistry but am struggling to see past the self-consciously grotesque broad strokes and surface level brutality on display.

Perhaps I wasn’t up to the challenge Lanthimos presented me with, and, because I fixated on imagery and dialog I didn’t like, maybe I overlooked the humor and nuance.

Maybe, maybe not.

I love that a filmmaker as wild and risk-taking as Lanthimos has been given a large budget to make a movie this crazy, but it’s easy for me to admire “Poor Things.” Watching it is another thing entirely.

One and a Half Stars

6 Comments

  1. Moron thinks he has some ‘responsibility” to watch every movie some liberal farts out his ass and then review it for a largely so called “christian” audience. Make that make sense.

  2. I’m a pirate but also Found it just overly sensational, and definitely had all the things Hollywood loves to advocate like it’s irrational moral compass, or the destruction of innocence. Which is my main reason for disliking this movie, the destruction of innocence. Which they placed in the movie from the beginning and with the mad scientist always mentioning the cruelty his father showed him when he was younger. Like children are really innocent, and to take it so quick to sex and more sex and more sex and some plastic surgery. Just a story for people who love to imagine dark themes and paint some advocacy for freedom of thought .

  3. It seems that the more warped a movie is, the more people rave over it. What does that say about the mentality of people these days.

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