Local student Brady Burkett shares his reviews of movies that have recently been shown, or will be shown, at the Fox Theatre on Queen Street East in the Beach.
By BRADY BURKETT
Poor Things is weird. It’s gorgeous, hilarious, touching, creative, uplifting, and excellently crafted, but above all it is deeply, innately, and to its very core odd.
Something like last year’s Everything Everywhere All at Once is also all of those adjectives, but ultimately had a main character who grounded the insanity and acted as an audience surrogate through the runtime, as a hand hold for the more casual viewer.
Poor Things has no such safety net. It throws you directly into its absurd and strange universe, and reflects it in every aspect of its filmmaking. Poor Things wants you to meet it on its level, and not everyone is going to be able to bring themselves to do that.
Personally, I am delighted that Poor Things makes no attempt to make itself more accessible, because if you are capable of meeting it on its level it’s one of the most entertaining and enjoyable experiences that you’ll have in a theatre this year.
In a update and/or subversion of the classic Frankenstein narrative, it tells the story of Bella Baxter, played by Emma Stone, a woman created (in a sense) by brilliant but deformed and disturbed mad scientist Godwin (referred to as “God” throughout, a charming but admittedly unsubtle allegory), played by Willem Dafoe. Having been trapped in Godwin’s strange mansion her whole life, Bella eventually runs off with a handsome but predatory man named Duncan Wedderburn, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, and the film follows her delightful and strange interpretations of the equally delightful and strange world around her.
The immediate thing that stands out about Poor Things is the visual style. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted a world that looks utterly different from anything you’ve ever seen, both in real life and fiction.
The compulsive critical urge to describe it using comparisons to other things (“It’s like ___ and ___ combined!” is a popular one) utterly fails here due to the sheer uniqueness of this movie’s production design, looking so simultaneously false and lived-in, modern and timeless. It’s so singular that the film’s visual style could have relied entirely upon it, but the entire presentation has a similar feel: the frequent use of hyper-wide angles and slow-mo, the strange beauty of the score, and the decision to suddenly burst into vivid colour after 40 minutes of black-and-white once Bella’s journey commences being particularly inspired.
Fortunately, Poor Things has tons of depth beyond its gorgeous visuals. The movie’s ability to give the audience a sense of deep discomfort whilst remaining consistently funny and uplifting throughout is really remarkable. Seeing Bella gradually learn about the world around her and become a self-actualized woman in her own right is deeply inspiring and provides opportunities for plenty of philosophical discussion about the nature of the world without ever feeling bogged-down or pretentious. It’s also just absolutely hilarious, with Duncan’s increasing exasperation at Bella’s idiosyncratic observations and behaviour being the most frequently reliable source of laughs.
The performances are spectacular across the board, but Emma Stone easily steals the show here. She commits to completely and utterly inhabiting Bella. There are performances where you can tell the actor is putting plenty of effort in, but it takes a truly special actor to completely melt into a character like Stone does here, and she excels at both the comedy and drama. Bella’s instant and consistent likeability throughout owes a lot to her.
Everyone else is also great, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe (as Godwin), and the late-movie addition of Christopher Abbot being the particular standouts. Margaret Qualley’s unfortunate underuse and a pretty jarring and out-of-place performance from Jerrod Carmichael are the only real blemishes on the otherwise pitch-perfect casting.
Before I conclude, I feel that it is important to acknowledge a certain controversy that surrounds this film in the most careful way possible, without spoiling anything. There is a certain plot twist fairly early on in the film that adds a layer of discomfort to the rest of the movie, and I can understand becoming upset and being unable to move past it, but I can’t disagree more. Not only is it justified in the narrative itself fairly well (with an admittedly throwaway line that could be easily missed), but I think getting truly upset about it is taking the film far too literally when it’s intended to be allegorical.
Either way, I think that it pays off narratively in several interesting ways by the end, but it does create a certain icky feeling that potentially makes the film less accessible.
To be completely honest, I was prepared to give Poor Things a 9 out of 10 at the end of this review, but I somehow managed to talk myself up as I relived the film in my mind. I loved it instantly after finishing it and I love it ever more the more that I think about it. It’s one of my absolute favourites of the year and I hope it receives the attention that it so rightly deserves.
I said it at the beginning of this review and I will passionately say it again: Poor Things is gorgeous, hilarious, touching, creative, uplifting, and excellently crafted. But above all, it’s weird.
I give it a ranking of 10 out of 10.
The Fox Theatre is located at 2236 Queen St. E. Poor Things is now on screen at the Fox. Showtimes are Feb. 9 at 6:15 p.m.; Feb. 10 at 3 p.m.; Feb. 11 at 9:10 p.m.; Feb. 12 at 9:10 p.m. with Open Captions; Feb. 13 at 9:30 p.m.; and Feb. 15 at 6:15 p.m. For more information on upcoming films playing at the Fox, please visit https://www.foxtheatre.ca
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brady Burkett is a local resident and high school student. The opinions in the reviews are his, and the reviews are not sponsored or vetted by the Fox Theatre.