Review: ‘Poor Things’ is a salacious ‘Frankenstein’ turning Emma Stone into a Golden Globe ‘favourite’ – WTOP News

WTOP’s entertainment editor Jason Fraley reviews Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” which will compete for a whopping seven Golden Globes this weekend.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley reviews ‘Poor Things’ (Part 1)

This Sunday night, “Poor Things” will compete for a whopping seven Golden Globes, including Best Comedy/Musical, Best Director for Yorgos Lanthimos, Best Screenplay for Tony McNamara, Best Original Score for Jerskin Fendrix and acting prizes for Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo.

That means you might spend this weekend watching the acclaimed science-fantasy, macabre dramedy that’s now playing in D.C. theaters — that is if you’re up to the challenge of a bizarre, graphic film that certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but will leave even its detractors admitting that it’s some of the year’s finest acting.

Based on the 1992 book of the same name by Scottish author Alasdair Gray, “Poor Things” follows a mad scientist fittingly named Dr. Godwin “God” Baxter (Willem Dafoe), who resurrects a Victorian woman who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. His crude creation is now named Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), who leaves her first fiance, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), to run off with a sordid lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo).

Dafoe absolutely kills it as the Frankenstein-style inventor with a “god complex.” Deformed with surgery scars down his face, Dr. Baxter scientifically rationalizes his questionable moral code if he can pretend that the ends justify the means. Meanwhile, Ruffalo is wickedly talented as the sinful suitor teaching Bella the excesses of hedonism. Expect both to be nominated for supporting actor come Oscar time, perhaps canceling each other out.

Still, it’s Stone who clearly steals the show in a role that is the polar opposite of her Oscar-winning songbird in Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” (2016). Bella Baxter is an all-time wacky part for Stone to stink her teeth into, staggering around as she learns to walk, dancing with herky-jerky body movements and approaching sex with shameless naiveté, innocently looking for love in all the wrong places with no concept of the inappropriate.

I’ve never fully clicked with visionary Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who made such absurdist films as “The Lobster” (2016) and “The Favourite” (2018), but “Poor Things” might be his best so far, once again using fisheye lenses, unique camera angles and ambitious tracking shots. This time, his most effective technique is starting with gothic black-and-white images in captivity, then shifting to color when Bella ventures out into the real world.

At times, Lanthimos becomes too obsessed with scintillating shock value as Bella’s repeated sex scenes eventually grow tired. In Act Two, Lanthimos belabors the idea of Bella exploring her sexual liberation to the point of alienating audiences that may shy away from his glaring fetishes. If you’re still reeling from the depravity of Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn” (2023), “Poor Things” rubs additional salt in that wound.

Even so, the overwhelming directorial bravura was enough to win the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. Just don’t expect it to be as accessible as prior Golden Lion winners like Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” (2017) or Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (2019), nor is it a quiet work like Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” (2018) or Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” (2020). This is brash, in your face and no doubt off-putting to more reserved viewers.

And so, “Poor Things” enters the Globes with murky definition. Like Todd Haynes’ “May December,” it’s an erotic drama shoehorned into Best Comedy/Musical, stealing spots from actual comedies (“Bottoms”) and musicals (“The Color Purple”). Likewise, it’s a stretch to have Stone and Natalie Portman (“May December”) competing against overt comedic roles (Margot Robbie in “Barbie”) and musical roles (Fantasia Barrino in “The Color Purple”).

Sigh, that’s the Globes for ya, folks. If Stone wins on the comedy side, she’s the front-runner for the Oscars, while Lily Gladstone will probably win on the drama side for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” I’d cheer the diversity of the latter, but her character wasn’t given enough to do compared to Greta Lee in “Past Lives.” Still, once the dramas and comedies combine at the Oscars, Stone’s performance is flashier — and that makes her the “favourite.”

WTOP’s Jason Fraley reviews ‘Poor Things’ (Part 2)

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