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Poor Things


Stars: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, Christopher Abbott, Hanna Schygulla, Margaret Qualley, Kathryn Hunter

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Think Bride of Frankenstein meets I Am a Nymphomaniac and you're halfway to grasping the core of this arty, pretentious and stunningly potty venture which, unlike Bride (heaven forbid!), concentrates heavily on sex. I can't recall giving a '3' rating for sex and nudity before, but it's richly earned here.

Disfigured mad scientist/lecturer Dafoe, who already has a collection of mutant animals - goat with goose head, dog-pig - around his lab, comes into possession (how?) of the corpse of a pregnant suicide (Stone) and decides to extract the brain of the unborn babe and implant it for the dead woman's own (a tad small perhaps?).

At any rate, Stone, now Bella, revives - 'What a pretty retard,' exclaims the prof's new assistant (Youssef) - and begins the learning process anew, swiftly concentrating on the workings of her body, moving from 'working on my closet of happiness' to 'furious jumping' with lecherous society rake Ruffalo, who whisks her off on a European tour, culminating in her giving away all his money and turning to prostitution.

Encounters with clients here are, perhaps predictably, graphically presented.

Initially set in London, the film appears to be lodged in the Victorian era, although strange, Zeppelin-like objects float across the orange skies. Stone does have some amazing moments and some of the colour work (cinematographer: Robbie Ryan) is extraordinary, even if the film is (perhaps forgivably) never within touching distance of reality, and (less forgivably) remains dislikeable and alienating throughout.

Apart from Dafoe, the stilted supporting acting is barely adequate, with Ruffalo affecting a supremely daft and intensely annoying accent, unworthy even of one of Peter Sellers' exaggerated cameos, and the star's weakest work to date.

The three stars are for Stone's game turn and cinematographer Ryan who, while mixing an incredible colour palate (after a first 40 minutes in black and white), uses fish-eye lenses to recreate the feel of Germanic surrealism. But I'd be quite happy to toss the rest of this into the movie's multicoloured river. Many critics and arthouse audiences will probably drool over it.

David Quinlan

USA/UK/Ireland 2023. UK Distributor: Disney (Searchlight). Colour by Company 3/Black and white.
142 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 3.

Review date: 10 Jan 2024