Per Matt
You may have heard about Freaky Friday, the story featuring supernatural forces at work, where a child switches places with her mother (and vice versa), and each character must deal with life “inside” a different body that had a somewhat Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe, but have you ever heard of a freaky Frankenstein? Naturally, I’m referring to Frankenstein’s monster, but I could not describe Emma Stone’s central character in Poor Things any other way.

Mary Shelley brought the classic horror icon to life in her classic 1818 novel, as Victor Frankenstein reanimates body parts grafted from a variety of corpses, but what if said creature was an adult female with the mind of a very young child? Adapted from Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, this film, starring the aforementioned Emma Stone (as Bella Baxter) is given life by the mad scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxter (played by Willem Dafoe).

From the start, the film mostly focuses on its sci-fi, fantasy and black-comedy roots. I was beginning to think Tim Burton could have probably hit this one out of the park in terms of its surrealism, but its overall tone then takes a dramatic turn.

There’s an obvious learning curve which Bella must accept as she adapts to her fully developed body, which Stone plays perfectly for awkward laughs. She’s confined to her house during this time, but once her character eventually explores her body, Bella’s sexual awakening becomes the main theme.

Now, if you know the difference between being naked and nekkid, you’ve got an idea of what Bella’s getting into. After sneaking away with Duncan Wedderburn (played by Mark Ruffalo), this over-the-top fantasy turns raunchy at the flip of a dime. Not exactly prudent for its Victorian Era setting, the romance gets real, as a whole lot of skin makes its way onto the screen. And with that, Stone and Ruffalo don’t hold anything back.

At this point, I was wondering if Yorgos Lanthimos’ film was yearning to be a raunchy sex fantasy or if this was simply an exploration in voyeurism?

Emma Stone in POOR THINGS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Either way, Bella has absolutely no constraint by societal norms on how to live her life, because she hasn’t been alive long enough to know them. She has no shame and explores a sexual awakening before she even knows what that might mean, which brings to light an ongoing controversy that’s attached to the story.

There’s been accusations of pedophilia tossed about, as Ruffalo’s character is much older, taking advantage of what amounts to be a very young child trapped within an adult’s body. The sexual scenes are numerous and graphic, most likely guaranteed to live forever (and not forgotten) online. I was shocked to see Stone’s full-frontal and absolutely butt-naked turn here, as the Academy Award winner dives headfirst into her role without hesitation. If you can focus solely on the story, the film is enjoyable.

Emma Stone won an Oscar not too long ago. If the movie-going public didn’t already know who she was, after watching Poor Things, that should totally change.

And her performance has already received rave reviews, as well as multiple award nominations. I became a fan of hers when Zombieland premiered back in 2009, and she’s the main reason I wanted to see this movie. Stone’s definitely topping my Best Actress nomination list for the Music City Film Critics’ Association Awards, and I’ll be cheering her on at the upcoming Golden Globes Awards and beyond.

Bizarre at its core, I would not describe Poor Things as a blockbuster film that should bring in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Far from it. This totally feels like a passion project of sorts, definitely a Searchlight Pictures release. It’s different and it won’t have mass appeal, but that’s OK. It never feels like Yorgos grasps for the lowest common denominator, in terms of storytelling. It feels unique since it’s an adult-skewing lower-budgeted drama, something that feels practically extinct at movie theaters nowadays. And as soon as it lands at a streaming service, I assume it’ll make bank immediately.

So, is Yorgos Lanthimos the kinky Tim Burton? As this is a big-screen adaptation of a novel, that’s debatable. But one thing cannot be denied: This monster is the most attractive Frankenstein I’ve seen in a while.