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‘Poor Things’

‘A bit of madness is key,’ sang Emma Stone in La La Land, ‘to give us new colours to see.’

In Poor Things, she proves it: the film is absurd, unhinged, and glorious. It’s my favourite film of the year so far, and one I wouldn’t have seen in a million years were it not for this project.

Our setting is a steampunkish, retrofuturistic version of the Victorian era. The plot centres on Stone’s character, Bella Baxter. The film’s Victor Frankenstein-esque character, Godwin Baxter, played by William Defoe, pulls a pregnant suicide victim from the Thames. The victim’s brain is removed and replaced with that of the foetus, and Bella Baxter is created. We follow her growth and development, her betrothal, and her decision to run away with another man.

The set-up makes this sound like a horror film: it’s not. Horrific things happen, but they are treated lightly and comedically. This was a film that had me grinning almost from beginning to end, even as Bella repeatedly stabbed a face with a scalpel.

Poor Things is a completely realised comedic fever dream. Everything about it is pitch-perfect: acting, set design, score, costumes, cinematography, it all adds up to a mesmerising whole. This is a film that embraces its form: sections are in black and white, sections are shot in a circular format, sections use a disorienting fish-eye lens. I am lucky to have seen in on the big screen, and would recommend that others do the same. It looks and sounds gorgeous.

Using its absurd world, the film has interesting observations to make on so many things, from feminism, to parent-child relationships, to the ethics of sex work, to the harmful straightjacket of polite society, to paedophilia. It is wonderfully, delightfully, inspirationally and insightfully odd. It’s richly and outrageously crazy.

Stone’s performance is nothing short of astonishing perfection. I cannot begin to imagine how someone can even attempt to inhabit such a gloriously weird character, with such a wide developmental arc. Stone brings Bella to life, making sense of a totally mad sketch of a character. It is unbelievable.

The other performances are also universally excellent. Of particular note, Vicki Pepperdine made a giant impression from a tiny part, not least with the surely immortal line, ‘She grabbed my hairy business!’

I enjoyed this from the first frame to the last. I’d happily watch it again.

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