Poor Things

COMIC DRAMA; 2hr 21min

STARRING: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo

Sea change: Stone

Rapturously strange from its opening image of a young woman swan-diving to her death, the latest tall tale from director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Favourite) fuses the impossible with the fanciful while winking at them both.


In Tony McNamara’s screenplay of Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel, Bella Baxter (Stone) is a pregnant Victorian Englishwoman who has opted for drowning over an unknown but probably horrible destiny. As luck would have it, she is revived by pioneering surgeon Dr Godwin “God” Baxter (Dafoe, showcasing Frankensteinish scars), after he replaces her brain with that of her unborn baby’s. Give it up for Emma Stone! When not smashing plates, chucking a radioactive tantrum or getting intimate with an apple, she totters-slash-staggers around the doctor’s ornate London residence like a deranged toddler, captured in black-and-white through a fisheye lens of utter lunacy by cinematographer Robbie Ryan.


Because Bella is pretty and unfiltered — a wild creature barely tamed — she is catnip to a smorgasbord of men. First in line is Dr Godwin’s student, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), who wants to marry her. Oily lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Ruffalo) has other ideas, whisking Bella off on a voyage of discovery that flips the palette to technicolour and features a generous serving of sex. 


Bella is feeling her oats and finding her sensory feet in a Lisbon that is part Disney, part Fellini and 100 per cent unhinged. Wherever her exploratory travels take her — through poverty in Alexandria and prostitution in Paris to an understanding of who she used to be — the art direction is myriad shades of fantastic. And as a woman evolving into her liberated self, Stone is a sensation all the way.