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The unapologetically eccentric female empowerment fable Poor Things wows and confuses in equal measures, so while there is much to admire in its audaciousness, I’m not sure I like the film.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos' new movie should have been catnip to me, with its marvellous steampunk Victorian designs, its smart Frankenstein-inspired storyline and inspired, feminist take-down of a patriarchic society. And yet, Poor Things leaves me curiously underwhelmed.

This is not the fault of Emma Stone, who gives a ferocious, unique performance as Bella Baxter, a woman resurrected from the dead with the brains of her unborn child implanted. In the first act her childish antics take some getting used to, but as she matures, learns, explores, you are taken on a memorable journey that will move your heart and stimulate your mind.

Everything that surrounds Stone's miraculous immersion in the role is decidedly off-key in several aspects however, beginning with Lanthimos' overindulgence in fish-eye lenses and other quirky directorial tricks that often detract from the story rather than enhance it.

Not quite up my alley either is Mark Ruffalo's performance as a buffoon lothario who takes Bella on a foreign trip filled with sexual discovery. He chews his scenes with such a pantomime voracity he dumbs down the themes of the film, in contrast with Willem Dafoe, who is much more in sync with Emma Stone as the mad scientist of the tale.

And while Poor Things builds to a poignant climax, you have to get past a rather clunky, blunt last act twist to fully enjoy the point the picture wants to make. The style and the substance are both there, but the film could have done with a lot more restraint and elegance.

release: 2023

director: Yorgos Lanthimos

starring: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef


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