‘Poor Things’ movie review: Emma Stone astounds in Yorgos Lanthimos’ wild, weird and wonderful universe

While Yorgos Lanthimos’ reimagining of the Frankenstein story is beautifully acted and executed, there is something gratuitous about the infantalising of Emma Stone’s character that runs counter to its purported feminist manifesto  

March 09, 2024 01:53 pm | Updated 01:54 pm IST

Emma Stone in ‘Poor Things’

Emma Stone in ‘Poor Things’ | Photo Credit: Atsushi Nishijima

People often forget Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein refers to the doctor and not the monster he created. Poor Things, the awards darling (11 noms at the Academy Awards) by the hectically talented Yorgos Lanthimos, based on Scottish author, Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel, is a reimagining of the Frankenstein story.

Poor Things 
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Christopher Abbott, Jerrod Carmichael
Story line: An unconventional doctor brings a drowned woman back to life, but there are problems
Run time: 142 minutes

The monster is now a respected if unconventional surgeon, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who brings a drowned woman back to life. She is called Bella (Emma Stone) and on account of her foetus’ brain being swapped with hers, has the mental age of a child; no, do not think of Kamal Hassan clowning around trying to bring Sridevi up to speed in Balu Mahendra’s Moondram Pirai.

Bella grows quickly discovering the joys of her body and masturbation along the way. Baxter chooses his student, Max McCandles, (Ramy Youssef) to record Bella’s mental development. And like all the waxy vampires in popular fiction, Bella enjoys a form of arrested development where age most definitely cannot wither her.

Max, with Baxter’s blessings, courts Bella and the happy couple are betrothed. The serpent in paradise comes in the form of feckless lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), who persuades Bella to run away with him on a grand adventure with lots of “furious jumping”, which starts in Lisbon with stops at Athens, Alexandria, Marseilles and a brothel in Paris where Bella discovers socialism, having discovered philosophy earlier.

A still from ‘Poor Things’

A still from ‘Poor Things’

The world of Poor Things is wild, weird and wonderful. Like a fever dream full of bright colours and bizarre vehicles, one is sucked into itsuniverse with no time to take a breath or wonder about things that do not quite add up. The brothel in Paris where the women seem to enjoy sex is most definitely a product of the male gaze, no? As is Bella’s discovering her sexuality. Bella flipping the penis of a corpse is just the saddest version of penis envy. The men are silly or sadists and are all out to cage the free spirit that is Bella; yet another iteration of the pixie girl albeit with the flashing eyes and floating hair of the witchy woman.

Though Emma Stone has the most opportunity to flaunt her acting chops (and she does), it is Dafoe and Ruffalo who are more fun to watch. Margaret Qualley as Felicity (the second resurrection project), Vicki Pepperdine as the stuffy, suffering housekeeper Mrs Prim, Suzy Bemba as Toinette the sex worker who teaches Bella socialism, Jerrod Carmichael as Harry Astley, who with Hanna Schygulla’s Martha von Kurtzroc introduces Bella to the joys of philosophy, Christopher Abbott as Alfie Blessington, Bella’s sadistic husband of her earlier life, and Kathryn Hunter as Swiney the madam in the brothel provide a competent colourful cast of characters.

Poor Things is somewhat funny and completely glorious to look at (cinematographer Robbie Ryan rocks the steam punk look), with all the black-and-white sequences fondly reminding one of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and sweet, bug-eyed Igor... but that’s about it.   

Poor Things is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar

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