Poor Things, a surreal mix of science-fiction and pornographic fairy tale by the loopy Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, may not be the worst commercially intended movie ever made. But it is unquestionably the filthiest. In a chaotic cacophony of mixed reviews, it has been described as weird, exhausting, repugnant, raunchy, garish, demented, twisted and bonkers. Those are the good reviews.
POOR THINGS ★ (1/4 stars)
But I line up on the side of the reviewer who called it “absolutely batshit, utterly filthy, and a true original.” I hated it, but reluctantly give it one star for whimsical sets and costumes, and there’s a minute sprinkle of suspense while you wait for a point of view that never arrives. But its laughable claim to deliver a fresh take on a woman’s tortured odyssey to liberation and self-discovery serves no other purpose than extracting admission money to experience something you’ve “never seen before” and is nothing more than pumped-up poopery. If you’re naïve enough to believe anything chock full of shock for its own sake is automatically praiseworthy, then open your wallets and see for yourself. You might hate yourself in the morning.
The kinky plot: A suicidal pregnant woman throws herself off a bridge and gets dragged out of the river by a mad Dr. Frankenstein (Willem Dafoe, ravaged and gnarled with scars across his face, in a white smock smeared with the blood of patients he’s dissected) who slices off half of her skull and replaces her brain with the brain of her unborn fetus, turning her into an offensively obnoxious Bella Baxter (Emma Stone, in another of the pointless smart-aleck roles she prides herself in).
Brainless Bella is mad as an outhouse rat, rejuvenated by electrical currents that leave her with a passion for eating with her hands and constantly vomiting the contents all over the furniture, punching out a baby, smashing the china, and inserting all manner of bizarre objects into her vagina. Instead of toys, she plays with the penises of corpses and two pets created by the demented surgeon she calls God—a freak with the face of a pig and the body of a turkey, and the head of a bulldog grafted onto the body of a duck. Warned not to fall in love with men because they “have very little to offer in the way of constancy—just adventure,” Bella decides to try some of that adventure anyway when, into this maze of adolescent bedlam comes a rakish cad and nefarious sex fiend from the outside world named Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo, of all people) who introduces Bella to the forbidden excesses of public lust.
What follows is a hysterical load of lunacy written by Tony McNamara and directed by the cinematic anarchist Yorgos Lanthimos about a woman’s odyssey to liberation and self-discovery. They travel from London to Lisbon to Paris, each city looking like the cobblestone alleys of a Disney nightmare, as Bella grows from a drooling infant moron to a mature young woman dedicated to a life of promiscuity and prostitution. Turned loose in the Technicolor world of rococo sets as lavish as they are loony, Bella’s craving for more sex leads to an experimental plummet into sex work, which gives Emma Stone a buffet of opportunities to spread open her legs and reveal more than her acting ability. Degradation, sadness and horror—she embraces every negative emotion stark naked, devouring raw oysters and rutting like a pig. This is acting? In an intense orgy of gluttony and self-indulgence that has driven a lot of reviewers to foam with preposterous platitudes. It’s all quite baffling to someone like me, who prefers movies that are still frequented by characters that are basically sane.
According to an interview in the New York Times, the weird director rejects anything that resembles convention and rehearses his actors reciting their lines while doing log rolls, walking backward, or with their eyes closed. After suffering through a load of contemptible rubbish like Poor Things, I’m prepared to believe it.