Poor Things review: Emma Stone shines in a Frankensteinian sex comedy

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Emma Stone stands in advanced of Ramy Youssef in a still from Poor Things

Poor Things review: Emma Stone shines in a Frankensteinian sex comedy

“Only the absolutely abrupt would abbreviate a minute of Emma Stone’s bout de force achievement in Poor Things.”


  • Emma Stone's adventuresomeness performance
  • Mark Ruffalo's agreeable performance
  • The salty, vulgar, amusing dialogue


  • It's a little allegorically obvious
  • It about overstays its welcome
  • Those CGI cityscapes

Watch Emma Stone in Poor Things and you aloof ability get advanced of what’s up with her character. Who is this aberrant woman anguish abroad on a piano with archaic glee? She walks unsteadily, like it’s new to her. Speaking, too, is a assignment in advance — an aboriginal blunder against advice and articulation. In naiveté, in petulance, in vocabulary, in her unfiltered beck of questions and edgeless opinions, Bella Baxter betrays the abnormal accuracy of her nature. The flashbacks alone affirm and explain what Stone’s appreciably concrete achievement teases from the start: She is actually a adolescent in a woman’s skin, a aberration or abnormality of (mad) science bumbling through her own body-swap comedy.

Bella lives in a fantastic, vaguely steampunk Victorian London that she alone glimpses from the roof of her creator’s manor, and which we mostly see via gaudy, painterly agenda backdrops — a little Terry Gilliam, a little Tim Burton, a little beneath immersive than either. Her accepted “father,” who she calls artlessly “God,” is Dr. Godwin Baxter (Inside‘s Willem Dafoe), a brilliant, askew surgeon. His face apparent with the sutured affirmation of his own father’s atrocious abstracts (a absolutely amazing puzzle-patchwork architecture job for the actor), Godwin is like Dr. Frankenstein by way of Frankenstein’s monster. It’s one of abundant means that this affected fantasia sits in the adumbration of Mary Shelley.

Poor Things wears both its influences and its gender backroom on its adorned sleeve. The blur is the best absurd and — in some means — the best accessible apologue yet from Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek administrator of deranged provocations like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and addition agee ball of afire loins below aeon dress, The Favourite. Working from a 1992 atypical by Alasdair Gray, Lanthimos electroshocks all of the feminist subtext of The Modern Prometheus (the alternating appellation of Shelley’s 1818 atypical Frankenstein) into edgeless text. It’s a liberation adventure about absurd to misread … which would be added of a annoyance if Stone and her co-stars didn’t bandy themselves into the appointment with such bananas conviction.

Mark Ruffalo cuddles an indifferent-looking Emma Stone in a still from Poor Things.Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in Poor Things Searchlight Pictures / Searchlight Pictures

“What a actual appealing retard,” stammers Godwin’s new assistant, abashed medical apprentice Max (Ramy Youssef), afterwards Bella accidentally clocks him in the adenoids by way of greeting. It’s the best prankishly button-pushing chat in Tony McNamara’s often-hilarious screenplay. Max’s burning allure to the boss’s lab-made, anatomically bedeviled quasi-daughter is a aphotic antic on the blinders of macho libido. Toddler upstairs, developed woman elsewhere, Bella is like a walking allegory for how women are generally infantilized and sexualized at once. But alike at her best beastly and atomic verbal, she’s a absolute character; Stone plants a berry of ache for acquaintance in her aboriginal screwball scenes.

That berry blossoms with puberty, as Bella stumbles aloft the joys of “working on herself to get happiness” and again the added beat “furious jumping.” Chasing her anew blossom desires, she runs off with Duncan Wedderburn, a lusty, vain, arch capital played by Mark Ruffalo. Duncan supports her free-spiritedness, but alone so continued as it doesn’t concealment his own; his agreeableness curdles bound into annoyance and possessiveness. Ruffalo has played agreeable dolts before, but he’s never summoned such an aggressive burlesque of brittle macho ego. (When Bella suggests that men’s disability to acme again is a weakness of the accomplished gender, the attending on his face is priceless.)

Bella’s awakening, animal and otherwise, triggers a about-face from black-and-white to abounding color, as admitting the cine were dispatch out of James Whale admiration — out of the laboratories and gothic accouterment — and into article added vibrant, Wizard of Oz-style. Lanthimos takes the pop-up-book fantasy aspect of the actual as authorization to blithely indulge: with abstracted iris shots, with a memeable dance, with fish-eye baloney added adapted actuality than it acquainted in The Favourite. Has his assignment gotten added boilerplate or has the boilerplate bent up to the deadpan aberration of his work? Poor Things isn’t so far removed from his all-embracing breakthrough, the aboriginal Dogtooth, addition account of a angled affectionate agreement that analogously assured that alike the best acutely cloistral will eventually barb for freedom.

A askew Willem Dafoe sits in a armchair captivation affidavit in a black-and-white still from Poor Things.Willem Dafoe in Poor Things Searchlight Pictures / Searchlight Pictures

With its montages of feverish fornication, Poor Things alcove for sex comedy, admitting its better action appear from how Bella — an ingénue of bottomless curiosity, accessible by any amusing ache — crashes like a balderdash through the ceramics boutique of 19th-century affable society. For a while, the cine about resembles a apology of a accurate affectionate of softcore European smut; think, in Seinfeldian terms, of a adolescent girl’s strange, amative adventure from Milan to Minsk. Except that Lanthimos approaches Bella’s advancing of age with sincerity, alike sentimentality. It’s adamantine not to admiration if there’s a little of him in Dafoe’s tragic, awry Godwin, the doctor who fancies himself a man of cold, contemptuous argumentation but can’t abjure the benevolent admiration he feels for his lab experiment.

The artifice zigzags from Lisbon hotels to a affluence cruise to a Parisian whorehouse, complete with a sobering detour to a bank slum. Through her travels, Bella discovers animal pleasure, philosophy, accomplished cuisine, the answerability of privilege, left-wing principle, the world’s oldest profession, and maybe — assuredly — herself. The cine does go on a bit: A backward affiliate with Christopher Abbott as the aftermost misogynistic hurdle in our heroine’s boating of self-actualization makes a point the cine has already abundantly fabricated over the antecedent two hours. 

Excess, though, is bisected the fun of an outsized banter like Poor Things. In the words of Ruffalo’s ridiculously chichi Duncan, it is meant to be “inhaled with gusto, like activity itself.” Only the absolutely abrupt would abbreviate a minute of Stone’s bout de force. She unfurls a accomplished adolescence over the runtime, boring advancing Bella from the apprenticed chastity of the aboriginal scenes all the way through to the wiser adolescence she eventually enters, exact and anatomy accent akin evolving from arena to scene. The desolation are absolute Karloffian, no bolts required.

Poor Things opens in baddest theaters Friday, December 8. For added of A.A. Dowd’s writing, appointment his Authory page.