POOR THINGS – A Review by Jenn Rohm

POOR THINGS – A Review by Jenn Rohm

Based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel, director Yorgos Lanthimos has brought Poor Things to the big screen.  This is a movie I have had to sit on and think about before I could write my review.  The more I pondered on it, the bits I found disturbing faded and the irony of what I found shocking vs the subject matter of the movie cleared up.   

My broad strokes overview summary is Bride of Frankenstein in a steampunk setting with the discovery of what the female anatomy is capable of.  The film starts in black and white and switches to color when Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) discovers how to make herself happy and then takes off for an adventure.  We follow along as Bella’s brain develops from toddler to teen then adult.  Her knowledge comes from multiple sources and multiple experiences.  While much is focused on “furious jumping” and other sexually gratifying experiences, she has freedom most of us do not have in learning the ways of the world.  Most of us are forced to accept and follow socially acceptable expectations.

Emma Stone gives an amazing performance.  Her ability to be accepting of the world she is being raised in and exhibit childlike innocence is impressive.  There is a moment with a dead male body where a particular part of the anatomy gets her attention.  Her actions follow that of a child seeing that as curiosity with no sexual context to it.  As the character progresses, we watch her learn some hard life lessons to learn.  The growth that occurs is reflected as she advances to the next moment of learning.  Stone not only conveys where in development she is at with how her lines are delivered.  It is reflected in all movements including walking and eating.  This role could have easily been tipped into overly comical and uncomfortable.

Willem Dafoe brings life to Dr. Godwin Baxter.  He displays his interest in what is possible in the realm of human science without regard for what the rest of the world thinks while also showing the vulnerable underbelly left behind by his father’s treatment of him.  I am not able to think of anyone else who currently has the range needed for the character.

There are two male “love” interests for Bella.  Max McCandles (Rany Youssef) is a kind-hearted and accepting assistant to Dr. Baxter.  He accepts Bella being Bella and does not place any limitations on her.  Then there is attorney Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo).  He believes himself to be a worldly man deserving of the better things in life.  When what he expects doesn’t happen, he must learn a few lessons himself.

Seeing a world of steampunk on the big screen is not often done.  The choices made from starting in black and white and then to a select color pallet help keep a level of fantasy with a touch of “could it actually be possible” alive.  Baxter’s horseless carriage with almost realistic sounds had to be so much fun to create and see brought to life on the screen.  Most of the fashion choices are Victorian, with Bella having touches of childlike choices such as shorts while women wear skirts, or teenage choice of a mini skirt while snowing outside.  These of course help her to stand out amongst the rest of the people on the screen.

Jerskin Fendrix is making his feature film scoring debut with this film.  The songs are hauntingly beautiful and work well with the film.  With full orchestra sounds, mixed with electrical touches, the tingy sound of a music box, and notes that grab your attention.  Moments of the film are enhanced by his work.

I would like to make it clear the film has multiple scenes involving sex.  Some may be rather uncomfortable sitting next to a stranger or someone they do not know on an intimate level.  Looking at some of the film’s messages of patriarchy and women making choices about their own bodies the irony was not lost on me.

At 2 hours and 21 minutes, this is a long film.  There is a subplot alluded to earlier in the film that plays out at the end.  I am a bit torn about it.  The film was ending, and it would have worked yet it wasn’t necessarily the right ending for Bella.  This subplot moves quickly.  In fact, I found the entire movie itself well-paced.  I just found there to be more than was necessary.  Not sure what I would have changed, which may have been the case for those editing the film.  I will watch this one again to find more of the gems hidden within that I missed the first time I watched.  


Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Written By: Tony McNamara, Alasdair Gray

Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong and pervasive sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing material, gore, and language

Genres: Romance, Sci-Fi

Selig Rating: 4 stars

Runtime: 2h 21m

Release Date: December 8, 2023

Movie Site: Poor Things website

Trailer: Poor Things official trailer


The Selig Rating Scale:

5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.

4 Stars – Good movie/show

3 Stars – OK movie/show

2 Stars – Well there was nothing else…

1 Star – Total waste of time.

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