The horror of a woman living in a patriarchal society is hilariously presented in Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’ epic and saucy adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s award-winning novel.
The book is a postmodern spin on Frankenstein set in the nineteenth century which tells the tale of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) – a young, pregnant woman who is reanimated by brilliant scientist Godwin (Willem Dafoe) who replaces her brain with that of her unborn child.
The off-kilter charm associated with Lanthimos’ (The Lobster, Dogtooth) oeuvre is deliriously displayed in this big-budget production; in fact, he’s pushing it to its limits. Every actor is having a godamm ball! Stone in the central role is magnificent and deserves all the awards for her physically impressive performance as she transforms from awkward, curious child to emancipated woman. Stone’s scenes with Mark Ruffalo’s British cad Duncan Wedderburn are delightfully unhinged as he whisks her away around the world for delicious adventures. Ruffalo’s turn is one for the ages and it’s great to see him embrace his comedic chops with real gusto as his character gets increasingly frustrated with Bella’s refusal to give into his demands.
Lanthimos places his characters on an artificial, dreamy-looking backdrop which adds to the uncanny feel of the film. It plays out like a demented concoction of Basil Dearden’s The Assassination Bureau, Pygmalion and Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men & Chicken with more than a dash of the daring eroticism of Walerian Borowczyk’s work. No sexual taboo is off limits when Bella begins working in a Parisian brothel.
Underneath all the smut and giant F.Us to polite society is a sincere lament to the rotten core of a reality that has continually undermined women’s autonomy. It shares parallel themes to Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.
Poor Things is a wild, wacky and buoyant adventure that breathes joyful life into a gloriously crafted and memorable central character, Bella Baxter, who dreams of a better world. It is a wickedly funny sci-fi romcom about a woman who learns to love herself in a world that undervalues her very existence. It also refreshingly shakes up the status quo when it comes to modern, mainstream filmmaking.
Poor Things was seen and reviewed at the London Film Festival. It will be released in UK cinemas on 12 January