Ramy Youssef and Emma Stone in POOR THINGS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos.

‘Poor Things’ Is a Frankenstein-esque Masterpiece of Emma Stone’s Making

4.5/5 boat rides.

Yorgos Lanthimos weaves fascinating characters into stories of loss, comedy, and sex time and time again. Poor Things yet again brings to life his unique brand of humor with his visionary world building as a director and another collaboration between Lanthimos and his The Favourite screenwriter Tony McNamara.

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A Lanthimos/McNamara production brings us a precarious balance between comedy, heart, and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but what makes Poor Things stand apart from The Favourite as an appealing story is entirely down to Emma Stone’s performance as Bella Baxter. Stone brings this complicated woman to life as the heart of Lanthimos and McNamara’s own Frankensteinian tale in such a way that you’re captivated by her desire to learn and grow as the brain of an infant trapped in the body of grown woman.

The creation of God (Willem Dafoe), Bella goes on a journey from being completely dependent on those around her to a woman who is learning and growing, and Stone’s portrayal of all of that makes Poor Things what it is. Visually stunning and one of the most thrilling watches of the season, Lanthimos’ film lets Bella grow as a character with Stone’s performance, and it works to give the audience time to fall in love with her.

Bella Baxter has to learn just has a child does, despite her body being a fully grown woman’s, when we first meet her. As she is learning what sexual pleasure is as she quickly ages and the film quickly becomes a sex comedy and one of female pleasure and exploration, it is sold by Stone’s comedic timing and charm. That’s all paired beautifully with moving set pieces that capture the eye and take you to breathtaking places on Bella’s journey of self discovery.

An ensemble of characters trying to tell Bella who she is

Mark Ruffalo sitting on a couch in 'Poor Things'
(Searchlight Pictures)

As with many of Lanthimos’ projects, the cast is filled with actors we’ve come to love and each brings a shining performance of their career. Trying to label the standouts of Poor Things is a daunting task. Mark Ruffalo’s Duncan is used as Bella’s escape but he is a man who is all flash with little substance, and it is fun to see Ruffalo give in to this kind of caricature of a man. God, for all his faults, still has Bella’s heart in so many ways.

Ramy Youssef’s Max, who is one of the first men that Bella Baxter meets who is not her father figure, brings us a charming performance in a way that is so surprisingly grounded in a film of outlandish moments. The more the movie goes on, the more the performances just continue to help carry Bella’s story in a way that makes Poor Things one of the strongest films of 2023.

Jerrod Carmichael’s Harry only comes in while Bella and Duncan are on a ship together, but it is a beautiful moment in Bella’s life and one that changes her perception of things, especially when they get to Alexandria. He helps her see the world in a different light, and Carmichael’s performance is subtle and nuanced in contrast to Ruffalo’s bombastic Duncan. That all leads to Christopher Abbott’s Albie in the end, who comes in with an ominous tone, and all of these roles color the story of Bella’s world.

The men of Bella Baxter’s life are used as stepping stones by Lanthimos and McNamara, and that’s aided by a visually captivating world all brought together by Emma Stone’s ability to make us care so deeply for what Bella is going through. Poor Things is the kind of movie that will leave you thinking about Bella for a long time to come, and that’s what she deserves.

(featured image: Searchlight Pictures)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.