by Victoria Alexander
Astonishing, breathtaking, a visual masterpiece. Bella transcends Barbie. She is the new female archetype. A sublime creature. Stone is miraculous! Ruffalo will never surpass this performance. All awards must go to this best picture of the last ten years.
I have POOR THINGS as my first-place choice for 10 Academy Awards. Because this is the year of prestige, vastly expensive, well-publicized, heavily advertised films that support the movie industry with employment for their huge productions, smaller films like POOR THINGS will get overlooked.
And then there is the phenomena of 2023’s BARBIE. As for female empowerment, BARBIE is a neutered virgin who likes clothes instead of boys. Wasn’t the Barbie doll savaged by feminists for her unrealistic, still bizarre body? Compared to POOR THINGS Bella Baxter, BARBIE - an absurd billion-dollar movie – has a heroine with one emotion, cheerfulness. Bella is the true movie feminist and a female adventurer without guile or guilt. She likes sex.
POOR THINGS is based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Alastair Gray.
POOR THINGS will take Best Costume, because every gender who sees POOR THINGS will want to dress as Bella Baxter and speak her meme-worthy words. If you brought anything pink, throw it away.
Who is the monster in POOR THINGS? The now dead scientist who sacrificed his son to a childhood of savage experiments, or the son, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who followed his father by establishing himself in the field of surgery while attempting to bring about a radical new form of human?
POOR THINGS takes place in Victorian England where the ideal woman was pure, chaste, refined and modest. This ideal was supported by etiquette and manners.
Dr. Baxter is sent the body of a young woman who has just committed suicide by drowning. By her elaborate gown she is not a desperate street-dwelling creature. She is also heavily pregnant. Her life must have been filled with hopeless trauma.
Dr. Baxter names her Bella Baxter (Emma Stone). He has successfully blended two animals into one and now he has his first human subject. The Bella he reanimates quickly develops but Dr. Baxter does not impose any familial structure, society’s rules, or enforced behavior. Without parental demands, Bella is allowed to experience everything as a “feral” child with breathtaking clothes.
The memories of who Bella was before her suicide are gone. Now the person resurrected as Bella Baxter has no memory of the strict Victorian moral code inflicted on women.
Dr. Baxter will not allow Bella outside. His severely, deep scarred face and corrupted body – gifts from his father - keeps him isolated except for his surgical theatre appearances where he displays his skills for elite medical students. Bella requires 24-hour supervision, so he hires one of his young medical students as a research assistant, Max McCandless (Ramy Youssef), to record her every moment.
Bella’s terrible-twos tantrum is appeased when Dr. Baxter and Max take her on a carriage ride. They go to a park where Bella discovers nature and then the wondrous world of poor people. Back at her mansion prison, Bella has found the pleasure of solo sex and cannot understand why everyone is not doing it continuously. Dr. Baxter realizes it is time for Bella to be betrothed to Max.
Dr. Baxter prepares to have Bella legally secure. His lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), immediately decides to seduce Bella and takes her away for an extravagant holiday. Bella’s world turns vibrantly into color. Their first stop is Lisbon, where fabulously rich Duncan indulges Bella is magnificent clothes, an attempted course in aristocrat manners and, since he is a renowned “great lover”, constant, non-stop sex.
How can Bella accept Duncan as the world’s greatest lover, unless she tries out some competitors? And thus, Bella explores the highest level of lustful sex – naugh!
Duncan joins Bella when she takes to an elegant dance floor, and it is mesmerizing. It is astonishingly wild. It ranks with the dance scenes in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and PULP FICTION and Daniel Craig’s Belvedere Vodka dance – the director’s cut. Special mention goes to Jude Law’s white tiny Speedo beach walk to All Along the Watchtower in THE NEW POPE.
Bella also infuriates Duncan with another radical departure from a proper upbringing. She is obsessed with reading.
Duncan had considered Bella to be a brief indulgence, but her sexual curiosity challenges him. He becomes a groveling, crying, jealous fool. This is the performance Ruffalo will be remembered by. Duncan is deliciously vain, egotistical and a self-styled sexy womanizer.
Bella and Duncan’s many adventures are spectacular and best discovered by seeing the film.
When they are unceremoniously dumped penniless in Paris, this is where Bella meets Swiney, played by Kathryn Hunter, this critic’s Best Supporting Actress of 2023.
Margaret Qualley, Jerrod Carmichael and Hanna Schygulla are wonderful. Christopher Abbott gives his career a new direction.
Stone’s English accent is perfect. She astonishes and with Ruffalo they deliver a unique world designed with artistic perfection by director Yorgos Lanthimos. The entire production is fantastic. The costume designer Holly Waddington, and production designers, Shona Heath and James Price are phenomenal.
The ALL is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”
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