Friday Film Review | 'Poor Things'
The award-winning film “Poor Things” is picturesque, funny, absurd and disturbing. It sounds like the right film to lead into the Sundance Film Festival.
The film “Poor Things” is adapted from a book by the late Alasdair Gray, but basically it’s an update of the Frankenstein story. For openers, the twist is that the scientist looks monstrous. Dr. Godwin Baxter is hideously scarred and sutured and is played by Willem Dafoe as both paternal and demented.
His creation, Bella, (played by Emma Stone) is a raven-haired beauty with the mind of a child. Her infancy is like an amped-up version of Elsa Lanchester’s Bride of Frankenstein, with spasmodic, clumsy, wild movements and sometimes showing grossly inappropriate behavior, like a toddler.
Her world is confined to the doctor’s townhouse, where mutant domestic animals roam the grounds, and a naïve young doctor representing the audience (played by Ramy Youssef) discovers her shocking backstory.
The doctor’s lustful lawyer, Duncan (played with puffed-up smarminess by Mark Ruffalo) convinces her to venture to the outside world and leave behind the father figure she calls “God.”
As Bella leaves, the cinematography from Robbie Ryan changes from the doctor’s domain (the black and white of the old 30’s horror classics) to hot, ornate colors and storybook backgrounds depicting Lisbon, Paris or a ship at sea.
Along the way, Bella is initiated into sex (or “furious jumping” as she calls it) learns about philosophy from the printed page, and about cynicism from the poverty and horror in front of her own eyes. As a prostitute, she learns about being a commodity to many men; and about being a possession, in a hellish marriage to one monstrous husband.
This may be the best film depiction of the character Mary Shelley created in her novel—a lab experiment evolving into an articulate, thoughtful figure.
The film recently won the Golden Globe in the comedy category. And Emma Stone well deserved her individual Golden Globe, transforming in a two-hour plus film from an innocent to a woman who finds the world to be “sugar and violence.” She should share the honor with director Yorgos Lanthimos (best remembered for directing “The Favourite”) and screenwriter Tony McNamara.
Remember, though, that the film shows as much graphic sexuality as it’s “R” rating can bear—some of it funny, much of it sordid.
“Poor Things” is romantic and grotesque, ornate and ugly. Overall, it rates a four on a scale of five.