In theaters December 8, 2023.
“I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself.” - Emma Stone
Every now and then a movie comes along that challenges everything you thought you knew to be true about cinema. The most recent one to make a massive splash was Everything Everywhere All at Once. It transcended the very meaning of cinematic vision becoming something else entirely. It also challenged the basic understanding of what some might call “Oscar bait.” The Holocaust drama, the true life story of a slave, the terminal illness that teaches profound lessons on life and death, love and loss. These are near automatic shoe-in genre tropes for awards season. So when something like Everything Everywhere All at Once arrives it shatters those preconceived notions of what qualifies as award worthy.
As I write this we’re about a week and a half into November. That leaves about six weeks left in 2023 for the award contenders to say their piece. While that might be plenty of time for things to change in a normal year, the very night I write this the SAG-AFTRA strike literally just ended three hours ago. Because of the massive delay caused by the strikes, not much is left for the remainder of 2023. That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest fever dream, Poor Things, ended up as this year’s Everything Everywhere All at Once. I believe it is crafted in such a unique and profoundly odd but alluring way that audiences who are willing to go along with all of its absurdities will discover something wholly original and undoubtedly entertaining.
At about an hour into the movie I found myself removed from the story but only for a moment. Normally I hate when this happens. I want to be enveloped by a story and lose myself within it. But this one instance I was happy to stand back briefly to quickly examine what I had already seen and wondering where this thing could possibly take me over the next hour and twenty minutes. I was laughing at these bizarrely concocted moments of mish-mashed scenes of comedy and drama with a large serving of fantastical science fiction. It was otherwise a mess but somehow it all worked creating something unconventional in just about every sense of the word.
The cinematography is wonky and nonsensical at times almost as if the camera itself is experiencing this story of fanciful fulfillment just as we are, with a kind of child-like wonder and maybe, no definitely, some confusion. The main character is at first glance introduced as mentally disabled with the temperament and learning abilities of a toddler. As we learn her fascinating story we not only understand why she behaves a certain way, we can then organically grow with her as she, almost heroically, goes from an imprisoned child to fully functional woman complete with aspirations and desires. The supporting characters on her journey of self discovery are flamboyant and storybook-like come to life in ways rarely seen outside of a fantasy novel or cartoon.
As I was thinking about what I wanted to say about this movie I turned to my favorite tool to help realize and organize my thoughts about any movie. What movie have I seen that reminds me of the one I just saw? Or which combination of movies does it remind me of? Or to even broaden it more, rather than just movies, what stories in general does it compare to? Poor Things is a unique, timely adventure reminiscent of Frankenstein and Pinocchio with an adult spin and what feels like a dash of inspiration from the likes of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro.
It is, as I said, a journey of self discovery but more explicitly it’s about the empowerment of a once trounced and imprisoned girl setting the stage for her future self as a fully realized woman in what many around her call “polite society.” As an almost kind of fascination with a contradiction to arbitrary rules of normality, Bella takes to the rebellious side of her unencumbered, boisterous reactions to outside influence in basically all forms. In the beginning she is a girl wanting to get her way and becomes a woman unwilling to bend to the whims of emotionally stunted men who become increasingly threatened by her growing self-assuredness, overall intelligence and independence.
Poor Things is the female perspective of a Frankenstein/Pinocchio like journey about learning what it means to be a girl, usually in spite of those around her. Bella is as unique as they come and her story is one of tragedy certainly but its Willy Wonka-like storytelling is whimsical and I think somehow relatable despite its off-the-wall style choices in just about every aspect imaginable. If you were to ground her experiences in reality it would be about a modern woman learning her place beyond the confines of marriage and children and basically a loss of identity beyond that of a mom and wife. Her growing prowess and understanding of the world around her makes her less of a defenseless target and more of a threat to the men she encounters who would otherwise see her as nothing more than something to be used and thrown away when they’re done.
While it starts out with Willem Dafoe commanding the screen time for the first part of the film, it quickly becomes obvious who the focus of the story truly is. Emma Stone as Bella is bizarrely brilliant. She is naïve but only because of circumstance. When she is freed to discover the world for all of the good and bad it has to offer she instantly begins to see well beyond the confines of her once simplistic life. As with all the good and happiness found in the world, she discovers the evils and inescapable horrors of reality and despite hating every second of it she continues to learn. As you watch Stone gain the confidence in her stamina both on and off of her feet you see it’s in the small nuances of her performance that combine to make something incredible to experience. Stone has never been braver in just about every sense you can imagine. She is bare both physically and emotionally giving life to such a fascinating, complicated human being who is riddled in tragedy but equally in triumph.
Poor Things is from the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos, creator of The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the Oscar darling, The Favourite. Poor Things is Lanthimos at his most fantastical, ethereal and masterful. It feels like the most free he’s ever been behind the camera and because of it the film shines with all the uniqueness, oddity, beauty and even danger of a lightning strike in the middle of a blizzard but with the lasting effects of a full blown ice age. It is something to behold and one film I believe will be the talk of the town over the coming months.
Rated R For: strong and pervasive sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing material, gore and language
Runtime: 141 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Starring: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Out of 10
Story: 10/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals:10
Buy to Own: Yes