Review by Sean Boelman
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has quickly become a cinephile favorite with his English-language work like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Favourite. With a screenplay by The Favourite scribe Tony McNamara adapting Alasdair Gray’s novel, his latest, Poor Things, is an undeniably wacky film. However, its strengths lie more with Lanthimos’s direction than McNamara’s script.
The movie follows a woman brought back to life by a scientist as she experiences the world with fresh eyes and experiences liberation. It’s a weird, sexy odyssey, but at this point, what else do cinephiles expect from Lanthimos? It’s incredible that a filmmaker so idiosyncratic has entered the relative mainstream, and Poor Things is maybe his most grand film yet in terms of scale.
Every single aspect of the movie’s aesthetic is on point. The production design is wonderfully immersive, with a colorful approach that feels like a mixture of several different art styles. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is wonderfully askew. And Jerskin Fendrix’s score is truly fantastic.
However, it’s great that the world is so brilliantly immersive, as the script leaves something to be desired. At two hours and twenty minutes, the film ends up overstaying its welcome. The movie is very funny, and the protagonist’s arc is consistently compelling, but there are many moments that drag.
Poor Things is the third collaboration between Lanthimos and leading lady Emma Stone, and if this is any indication, it’s sure to be fruitful. Stone delivers what might be a career-best performance, which, considering her filmography, says a lot. However, the range she shows is astounding, with the performance evolving massively over the course of the runtime.
Stone’s excellent performance lends itself to the character’s arc. There’s a tremendous amount of nuance to the film’s exploration of female sexuality — something that one would not expect from a movie written and directed by men. However, Stone was clearly involved with the film creatively, having gotten a p.g.a. mark for her work on it as a producer, which translates to a brilliant turn.
Yet, while Stone’s presence is commanding, the supporting cast manages to hold their own. Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo are probably the biggest two faces, but some of the more minor performers make even more of an impact. Ramy Youssef is incredibly charming in his role and is great as an emotional grounding. Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott both only get a few scenes but make the most of them.
Poor Things is undeniably impressive in terms of its pure craftsmanship, and Emma Stone’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. Still, the bloated runtime keeps Lanthimos’s latest from ranking among the upper echelon of the filmmaker’s work.
Poor Things hits theaters on December 8.