Thursday, October 5, 2023

Poor Things (2023) NYFF 2023

Yorgos Lanthimos version of Alasdair Gray's novel is the current front runner for the Oscars. Set in a steam punk version of the 19th century the film tells the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman who was resurrected by  Dr Godwin Baxter (Wilem Dafoe). We watch a as Bella goes from being a child and turns into a woman. Told with Lanthimos' sense of bent reality and silliness the film is destined to be talked about for decades.

I liked this film. Its a hell of story that seems scattershot for a while until it starts to pull itself together into a deeply moving story. It's also a film that is weakened by some of the choices the director made.
The problems with the film are largely do to Lanthimos' choice of always being off kilter. He insists on playing a lot of this for laughs, and while its very funny, it frequently under cuts the emotion. There is a point where the silliness should have fallen away. I should have gotten misty not giggly at the end. It's not fatal, but it is lessening.

Additionally the film has a couple of bumps in it;s construction. There is a tendency to repeat certain tropes over and over (Bella's customers for example- we don't need to see as many as we do) and at other times details are left out or are unclear (Where was the ship going since its headed to Athens, ends up in Alexandria and the couple are dumped in Marseilles) don't get enough time with certain characters- particularly those who knew Bella when she was Victoria. 

Of course most people won't care, they will simply love the certain to be award winning delights.

This film is going to win almost every technical award under the sun. The world the film creates is magical. The costumes and in particular the sets are just pure joy. The moment when we get to Lisbon and see that we aren't in our world is one of the truly great reveals in cinema. 

The performances are going to dominate the acting awards.  Dafoe, Ruffalo and especially Stone are certain to be nominated if not win every award.  Stone's performance is beyond words. It's an arc of a life and I have no idea how she fashioned it, especially if this wasn't filmed in order. How did she know which degree she needed to be at? It's destined to be a career defining performance.

The real reason that the film works is because of the  spine of the script. The tale of a woman growing up and becoming her true self is a strong one. Its one that we can relate to because in its way it is the arc of our lives. The fable like quality to the details (say having people who want us to be something we are no loner) is  what makes it so universal. This is a script whose construction will be studied.

You all should see this film because it;s really good- though be warned it is full of sex and graphic gore.

(Addendum- Hubert Vigilla has suggested that POOR THINGS should be double featured with BARBIE and he is absolutely right)

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