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Poor Things

Inventive, audacious and likely to give you one of the most memorable evenings at the cinema you’ll have for many a year

★★★★★ - STUFF

- Emma Stone is simply superb as Poor Things’ Bella Baxter. - 

Greek film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest deliciously dark dramedy might be focused on biological abominations, but it delivers on-screen chemistry and a cinematic alchemy that will leave you breathless and beguiled in equal measure.

Inspired by Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name, Poor Things sees Lanthimos and his (The) Favourite co-conspirators Tony McNamara and Emma Stone reunite for an even more outrageous, provocative, evocative period drama that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.

A kind of feminist take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (although arguably it’s closer in tone to a combination of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Louis Buñuel’s Belle du Jour, two films Lanthimos apparently gave his screenwriter as references), Poor Things focuses on Bella Baxter’s (Stone) fantastic voyage of self-discovery and sexual awakening.

Re-born into Victorian London as the culmination of the increasingly bizarre and taboo-busting surgical experiments by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), Bella initially has the body of an adult woman, but the mind of a child.

As her curiousity and independence grows, Godwin decides to take on an assistant – Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef). He quickly becomes besotted with her, asking for her hand in marriage, despite eventually learning of her somewhat tragic and troubling history. Godwin agrees, but only if they promise to always live at the house.

Bella though, has other ideas, running off with charismatic, but caddish lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), when he regales her with tales of exotic places, opulent surroundings and Portuguese pastries.

While their relationship initially sizzles via regular bouts of “furious jumping” in all its forms, things begin to fizzle when Duncan attempts to control Bella’s impulsive behaviour, wanderlust and future.

Inventive, audacious and likely to give you one of the most memorable evenings at the cinema you’ll have for many a year, Poor Things, if there’s any justice, should end the upcoming awards season with a haul as impressive as the movie itself.

From the sumptuous costumes to Robbie Reynolds’ (Marriage Story, the New Zealand-shot Slow West) bravura cinematography (fish-eye lenses and unusual angles abound, while the action shifts from magnificent monochrome and terrific Technicolour, as Bella blooms a la Gary Marshall’s ‘90s crowd-pleaser Pleasantville) and Jerskin Fendrix’s sparse, haunting, sometimes jarring score, there’s always something to look at or listen to that will keep you completely immersed in this – often – wilfully bizarre story.

There’s a touch of Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), a hint of Lars Von Trier (Nymphomaniac), a soupçon of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) and a large dollop of Ruben Ostlund (Triangle of Sadness) in this “diabolical f… fest of a puzzle” (as one character so memorably puts it) cum-fever-dream that actually showcases three fabulous performances all worthy of statuette recognition.

Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate, The Lighthouse) is pitch-perfect as Bella’s controlling, but ultimately caring father figure, Ruffalo smashes his Hulk-ing persona as the wannabe bon vivant Wedderburn, while Stone is truly mesmerising as the fast-learning ingénue Bella.

Any argument that there’s exploitation amongst the eroticism is quickly washed away, as Stone’s character learns – and demonstrates – how to manipulate situations (and her potential suitors) to her own ends.

There’s no doubting Poor Things will be polarising. There will be people who find it offers nothing “but sugar and violence” (and a fair amount of nudity and sex).

But, for everyone else, it’s a reminder of just how gleefully wild, free-spirited and emotion-inducing the art-form that is cinema can be.

- James Croot, STUFF

Poor Things is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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