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Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo deliver career-best performances in Yorgos Lanthimos’ eccentric and delightful new film.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film is gloriously and dementedly alive!

Drawing inspiration from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Lanthimos and screenwriter Tony McNamara conjure a jewel-toned steampunk universe that melds Shelley’s science fiction with the narrative style of a 19th-century bildungsroman. However, in this rendition, it’s a woman who takes center stage in her journey of self-discovery and growth.

Resurrected from the depths of the river after taking her own life, Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) finds herself in a peculiar situation: she inhabits the body of a woman but possesses the cognitive faculties of a baby. Under the protective care of her creator, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), Bella navigates a world that is simultaneously familiar and foreign to her. When Godwin enlists the help of Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) to arrange a marriage contract between Bella and his student, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), Bella seizes the opportunity to escape with Duncan, embarking on a transformative journey that challenges societal norms and explores themes of femininity and empowerment.

The film initially struggles with a slow pace and Emma Stone’s occasionally exaggerated performance during Bella’s more childlike moments. However, once Mark Ruffalo’s character enters the scene and the film transitions from black-and-white to color, it finds its stride and captivates the audience.

Lanthimos’ most audacious and innovative film yet, “Poor Things,” aptly revolves around a mad scientist’s creation, mirroring Lanthimos’ own daring experimentation in cinema. The film is no different, characterized by its gleeful exploration of bodily fluids, sexual encounters, and overall visual extravagance. It exudes a sense of unbridled joy and eccentricity, from its lively dance sequences reminiscent of “The Favourite” to numerous scenes of passionate and pleasurable sex, referred to by Bella as “fierce jumping.”

Stone fully embodies Bella, portraying her as a Victorian version of Wednesday Addams, characterized by an insatiable hunger for everything in her path — be it men, knowledge, or self-possession. Bella is portrayed as a voracious creature, with her constant evolution never diminishing her lack of propriety and zest for life. She approaches the works of Thoreau with the same enthusiasm as she does cunnilingus, pursuing both with unapologetic demand. Lanthimos and McNamara strongly emphasize the importance of female desire and advocate for pleasure to be equally valued within a woman’s domain.

“Poor Things” undoubtedly showcases the performance of Stone’s career, with her wide-eyed expression perfectly capturing Bella’s sense of wonder at the world around her. Holly Waddington’s costumes, blending Victorian, punk, and mod styling reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood, further enhance her transformation. Stone’s comedic prowess shines through in her portrayal, making her an ideal fit for Lanthimos’ unique tone, which blends black comedy, farce, and social commentary in a strange yet captivating mix.

“Poor Things” brims with an absurd perversity that is riotously entertaining to watch, yet it’s more than just provocation for its own sake. The film also harbors a deep heart, marking Lanthimos’ most earnest and romantic work to date. This sentiment is driven by the film’s affection for its unique central character and her unwavering quest to live life on her own terms, societal expectations and conventions be damned. The Victorian setting portrayed is not the most traditional; instead, it’s fantastical, with pink and purple cotton candy skies and lavish sets that establish the tone of the larger-than-life story. While some formal filmmaking choices, like the frequent use of fisheye lenses, may feel excessive at times, they are minor quibbles in an otherwise captivating experience.

Indeed, “Poor Things” is not just a comedy filled with hilarity, explicit sex (which is both sensual and humorous), and colorful language; at its core, it’s a romance about a woman’s journey to self-love and acceptance, regardless of societal expectations. Bella emerges as a cinematic heroine for the ages, a character who defies norms and embraces her own desires and agency. In the hands of Yorgos Lanthimos, the film becomes a unique piece of artistry, fascinating to experience and behold.

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