It shouldn’t look this easy. At this point, and with the stupendous success that is Poor Things, I think director Yorgos Lanthimos can be called a master. He’s managed to take his very specific style and worldview, which is about as singular as it gets, and create a filmmaking voice worth celebrating. His latest work, a sexually free and wildly entertaining examination of female self-discovery, is not just one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s one of the best as well. Here at the Telluride Film Festival, it’s the crowning achievement of the fest.
Poor Things is the best work to date from not only star Emma Stone but Lanthimos as well. They trust each other implicitly and it shows in the final product. Daring and wild, but also incredibly playful, their spin on the Frankenstein tale is unlike anything you’ve seen, even if the narrative won’t necessarily surprise you. In their hands, you’re safe, provided of course that you don’t get offended easily.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, we meet Bella Baxter (Stone) some time after Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) has brought her into this world. Well, brought her back is more accurate, as he’s reanimated the corpse of a pregnant woman whose thrown herself off a bridge. Taking the brain of the unborn child and inserting it into the mother, Bella is born, looking like a grown woman but acting like an infant. Hiring his student Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) to document her growth, the men notice Bella starting to become incredibly curious. First, it’s the outside world. Then, it’s her burgeoning sexuality. Godwin plans to have Max marry her, as they have an attraction. Bella, however, isn’t so sure about this.
When lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) arrives to draw up papers for the marriage, he’s smitten by Bella. She too is intrigued, though seeing his bad boy ways as means for an adventure before settling down. Off she goes in the night with Duncan, getting to see the world, have a ton of sex, and begin to develop some strong opinions about how things should be. Those who underestimate her beware, as this woman is a force to be reckoned with. Seeing how she evolves is one of the film’s great joys, in fact.
Emma Stone gives the performance of her career so far playing Bella Baxter. She could easily win her second Academy Award for Best Actress. Watching her evolve Bella is a work of art. She’s a riot comedically, but also a forceful power. You root for her at all turns and celebrate every new achievement. Bella is one of the cinematic creations of the year. Mark Ruffalo has never been funnier, making his hammy role an absolute riot whenever he’s on screen. Ruffalo should also be knee deep in the Best Supporting Actor race. Willem Dafoe and Ramy Youssef are very solid, but fall more into the background in the second half. Supporting players include Christopher Abbott, Jerrod Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter, Margaret Qualley, and more.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos and writer Tony McNamara make an excellent team. Working again with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Lanthimos and McNamara take the genius of The Favourite and one up it at all turns. Visually, this is one of the most unique looking films of the year, beautiful and singular. Lanthimos directs the hell out of it, almost always seemingly with a smile on his face. McNamara’s script is brilliant, getting the humor to always hit, the feminism to click, and the sexual exploration to never feel like exploitation. Lanthimos and company walk a tightrope for two hours and twenty minutes, but they never fall. It’s a daring achievement, to be sure.
Poor Things is one of 2023’s best works and should be a major Oscar player. Telluride seemed to largely love it, which is something considering how out there it can be at times. I never wanted this one to end, that’s how good it is. Trust me folks, Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone are about to blow you away, once again. Bravo.