Poor Things Review: The Epitome of Disappointment

Poor Things is the epitome of disappointment, and it loses steam quickly

After seeing Lisa Frankenstein in theatres, I was on a bit of a Frankenstein kick. I could not get enough of the Shelley story and all of its variations throughout film and television. The concepts of playing god, creating life, and creating monsters—it really was a never-ending quest to view and digest every new spin people could take on this classic tale. And with all of its critical acclaim, Poor Things seemed to fit the bill.

At a quick glance, Poor Things tells the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a woman recently brought back to life by a disfigured scientist (Willem Dafoe). Bella is very sheltered but decides to explore the world and runs away with a romantic but slimy lawyer, Duncan (Mark Ruffalo). Along the way she encounters sex workers, philosophers, and troubled souls from her past who teach her about life as a woman in the 1800s.

The subject matter is also timely and important; in an age where women’s issues are still a hot topic, the discussion the movie is trying to have is relevant and needs to be had, but I just don’t think this is the avenue for it. This movie falls flat in it’s delivery, both beating audiences over the head with what it thinks the point is while also not understanding the source work, the book the film is based on, at all.

Poor Things wants to talk sexism, yet never has any of the men take any responsibility for the things they have done wrong. Some aren’t held accountable at all or barely get more than a slap on the wrist. The film wants to comment on the “born sexy yesterday” trope while simultaneously leaning right into it. The film tries to be sex positive, but through the lens of a director (Yorgos Lanthimos) who doesn’t seem to understand what sex positivity is, using it often as a manipulation tactic (The Favourite, one of my least favourite films of all time, ironically enough) or as something essentially unattainable (The Lobster). In Poor Things, there’s a lot of sex, but the director doesn’t really know how to craft the empowering narrative he intends. Instead, the sex scenes are just shock value and that’s about it. Discussing this film with my friend, she compared it to the narrative of famous HBO stinker, The Idol, where the female protagonist is, allegedly, exploited by men except for… (dun dun dun) SHE WAS IN CONTROL THE WHOLE TIME!

Except in both of these cases, this “twist” is not the empowering, girl boss moment they think it is.

I wanted to like this movie, I wanted to love this movie. But as the three-year-old Family Guy meme once went (the Godfather one), Poor Things insists upon itself. This happens every time I see ads for Yorgos Lanthimos’ movies. The marketing team promises me something that his pedantic and edgelord films can never deliver. He promises feminism but it’s always in this bizarre way where the women are victims under the guise of empowerment. Those movies might work for some, but not for me. I don’t think commenting on the horrors of being a woman while being a man who refuses to empathize rather than sympathize really adds anything to a discussion, and really isn’t a discussion at all. And a two-and-a-half-hour film of being talked at about how womanhood is a curse by some dudes (Dafoe is somewhat sympathetic, but that’s strictly because, like Gary Cole, I naturally love him in everything. Ruffalo, whom I usually love, is really barely present in this role but he’s having the time of his life, so good for him), while Baby Brain Bella is seemingly unaware of the influence she even has over these men so is it really empowering? Or is just happenstance?

While one could argue her ignorance is empowering, it can also be argued that these men are victim to the hotness and Bella falls victim to the “she’s so hot and doesn’t even know it” trope…yeah, definitely not the joy ride the director thought it was.

This review is wordy, with run on sentences and fractured thoughts, but that was all I could pull together after watching this. That’s all this film is itself, a bunch of pretty nothing leading nowhere.

This film failed to anger me, or even depress me. It was a long, dragged out conversation where men just spoke over me and while all the while encouraging me that “they understood”. It was a bad first date, a long meeting with your boss, a conversation you don’t want to have with your hipster, Uber driver. This just left me exhausted, tired of having to say the same things over and over again when it comes to movies where men are talking about women.

But what do I know? Maybe I just need Willem Defoe to put a baby brain inside of me so I can watch this film understand what it means to be a woman.

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