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The Strange and Beautiful World of Bella Baxter Are on Full Display in 'Poor Things'

"Would you rather the world not have Bella?"

Director Yorgos Lanthimos seldom shies away from the absurd. The auteur understands how to create strange and beautiful worlds through stilted framing and frequently casting past collaborators. Lanthimos cut his teeth in psychological thrillers and dark comedies like "The Lobster" and "The Favourite," the latter of which earned the helmer a much-deserved Academy Award nomination recognition. Now, the Greek-born director sets his sights on a horror-comedy epic in the vein of Frankenstein with the Emma Stone-led "Poor Things."

"Poor Things" stars Emma Stone as Bella Baxter, a woman with the brain of a child who looks at the world with rose-colored eyes. Brought back from the dead by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), Bella slowly gains a vast vocabulary and uses evidenced-based outlooks to understand the environment around her. Betrothed to marry Dr. Baxter's protégé Max (Ramy Youssef), Bella seeks to leave the confines of the mad scientist's mansion and explore the world as she sees fit.

In walks Duncan Wedderburn (a smarmy Mark Ruffalo), a man willing to run away with Bella and take advantage of her banging body and pea brain. The two shuffle off to Lisbon, Portugal on an adventure of a lifetime before she settles down with Max, a move that releases Bella from her comfortable jail cell of an existence and arrests her to another prison sentence with Duncan. She wants adventure, and Duncan cannot contain Bella's free-spirited senses. Along Bella's odyssey, she meets several worldly individuals, becomes a prostitute to make ends meet, and discovers more about herself than originally intended.

"Poor Things" is not a flick created for everyday people. Written by Tony McNamara ("The Favourite," "The Great"), the film is a dark, severely dark comedy that plays on tropes of Frankenstein movies and gives Emma Stone tons of room to play. The initial frames are presented in black and white, but when Bella escapes her home and begins her journey around Europe, colors are brighter, and her world opens up to unimaginable heights. Getting used to these confounding and eerily perplexing characters takes some time initially. But, once the fish-eyed lens perspective and sardonic sense of humor are absorbed, the characters enter a universe of surprising hilarity.

Emma Stone has never been better as Bella Baxter, an infant in women's clothing who speaks the truth and carries absolutely no filter. A human science experiment, Bella is a clumsy and unique character but charismatic in her own way. Stone throws herself into this role, literally shedding every piece of clothing to reveal a woman seeking to understand the world around her. Much like Margot Robbie's "Barbie," Bella Baxter understands very little about her surroundings at first, but life lessons seep into her subconscious enough to figure out what works for her and what doesn't. She is accountable to no one, speaks as she's thinking, has sex with whomever she wants, and is deadpan in delivering every line of dialogue.

"Poor Things" gives its ensemble cast room to explore the absurdity of life with extreme emphasis on Mark Ruffalo's dastardly and abusive Duncan. This might be Ruffalo's best performance to date and one that will surely see the veteran performer some time in the awards season light. Duncan and Bella are a terrible match, but Duncan is an essential part of Bella's journey as she wanders from town to town, learning more about life and what makes humanity tick. Her journey is worth the price of admission, and society's pitfalls are mirrored in Duncan and Bella's relationship.

Bella becomes a prisoner wherever she goes, abused by men, and inadvertently lashes out sarcastically. Unaware of her ridiculousness, Bella is a standout personality who leaves her mark and gives levity to a dark society due largely to Lanthimos' vision. The film is pure whackadoo from start to finish, built upon post-modern filmmaking, outstandingly framed cinematography, and awkward camera angles that give context to a strange world.

The film delights in its insanity, considerably to the advantage of those in on the joke. From Dr. Baxter's extensively scarred face and disgusting way of burping to Bella's masturbation with a cucumber and desire to "furious jump" every man she meets, this isn't your mother's Frankenstein tale. Suspend your disbelief going into this one, as "Poor Things" is designed to be a fantastically offbeat comedy with unhinged characters, an off-kilter demeanor, and a piercing score that changes with every new location Bella travels to. Thematic tension at its most deserved, this bizarre movie is full of unexpected surprises and some of the best acting this year.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟


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