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At The Movies: “Poor Things”: What was Bella made for?

“Poor Things” is the anti-”Barbie” movie.

Instead of a smiling Barbie (Margot Robbie), outfitted in bubblegum pink concoctions of glee, in the 2023 box office hit “Barbie” ($1.45 billion worldwide), we have the sourpuss Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), outfitted in outrageous costumes of outrage, in the 2023 Oscar contender “Poor Things.”

“Poor Things” has the second-most number of 2024 Academy Award nominations (11 Oscar nominations), compared to 13 Oscar nominations for “Oppenheimer.” “Killers of the Flower Moon” has 10 Oscar nominations. “Barbie” has eight Oscar nominations.

Emma Stone, Oscar actress nominee as Bella Baxter for “Poor Things,” won’t go head-to-head in the Oscars telecast March 10 with Barbie for “Barbie” because Margot Robbie didn’t receive an Oscar actress nomination. That Robbie was robbed of an actress nomination for “Barbie” is one of the biggest snubs in the 96th Academy Awards.

Emma Stone, a frontrunner in the Oscar actress category, will face the other frontrunner, Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart in ”Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone is the first Native-American to be nominated in the category.

In “Poor Things,” the time and setting is a steam-punk fantasy Victorian England. Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) is the subject of an experiment by a mad scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), who plays god, small g, to Bella.

Bella’s behavior, from that of child to young adult, is charted by the doctor’s assistant, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), who falls in love with Bella.

Bella, who develops a heart, brain and courage of her own, is whisked away to see the world by bon vivant lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo). He takes Bella to Lisbon, Portugal. They board a cruise ship and disembark in Alexandria, Greece. It’s on to Marseille and Paris, France. Then, it’s back to London, England.

In tone, art production and some subject material, “Poor Things” begs comparison to “The Shape of Water” (2017) by director Guillermo del Toro, for its fantasy elements; “Hugo” (2011) by director Martin Scorsese, for its phantasmagoria; “Corpse Bride” (2005) by director Mike Johnson and Tim Burton, for its cadaverous capriciousness; “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) by director Victor Fleming, for its mind-body-spirit quest, and “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) by director James Whale, for its tale of re-animation.

Yorgos Lanthimos (Oscar nomination, screenplay, “The Lobster,” 2015; Oscar nomination, director, picture, “The Favourite,” 2018) directs “Poor Things” in an over-the-top style in which anything goes on, and off, and does.

The screenplay by Tony McNamara (screenwriter, “The Favourite”’; co-screenwriter with Dana Fox, “Cruella,” 2021) is based on the novel, “Poor Things” (1991), by Scottish writer, artist, nationalist Alasdair James Gray (1934 - 2019).

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Oscar nominee, cinematography, “The Favourite”) toggles between black and white and color, with heavy use of the fish-eye lens, creating visual distortions intriguing and disquieting. The production design is fanciful and at once futuristic and historical.

Costume Designer Holly Waddington has a grand time with swathing Bella in sheaths of shimmering gowns with puffy shoulders, gorgeous bodices and lovely shirts, pants, shoes and accessories. The men’s outfits are dandy.

English pop musician Jerskin Fendrix (born Joscelin Dent-Pooley) splatters the soundtrack with shards of strings, from low-bowing to high crescendos.

Emma Stone is fantastic as Bella Baxter. Hers is a legendary performance among her legendary performances (Oscar recipient, actress, “La La Land,” 2016; Oscar nominee, actress, “The Favourite”; Oscar nominee, supporting actress, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” 2015).

Emma Stone is absolutely fearless, whether flailing about like a ragdoll, dancing spasmodically like Devo, bucking like a bronco, or in quiet repose, her big jade eyes staring into inner space. Emma Stone more than bares her soul in the role.

Willem Dafoe (four-time Oscar nominee: actor, “At Eternity’s Gate,” 2019; supporting actor, “The Florida Project,” 2018; supporting actor, “Shadow of the Vampire,” 2001; supporting actor, “Platoon,” 1987) is intensely minimalist as the mad doctor uttering tortured philosophical cynicism masked by a patchwork-quilt scarface.

Mark Ruffalo (Oscar nominee, supporting actor, “Spotlight,” 2016; supporting actor, “Foxcatcher,” 2015; supporting actor, “The Kids Are All Right,” 2011) provides an amiable creepiness as the man whose obsession with Bella Baxter gets the best of him as it does with all cads she crushes who cross her path.

Notable in supporting roles are Kathryn Hunter (Madame Swiney), Jerrod Carmichael (Harry Astley), Suzy Bemba (Toinette), Christopher Abbott (Alfie Blessington) and Margaret Qualley (Felicity).

“Poor Things” is clearly a work of art. The film is also a work of moral depravity and sexual exploitation that many may find disgusting and offensive. Emma Stone is a producer of the movie, so she knew what she was getting into. And there was an Intimacy Coach, as is de rigueur nowadays on movie sets and theater productions. I don’t know the ins and outs of MPAA ratings. I am surprised “Poor Things” did not receive an NC-17 rating.

In some scenes, “Poor Things” is reminiscent of the fantastic art of Netherlands painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450 - 1516), as per the sardonic irony of his “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” “Poor Things” would be right at home.

Barbie may have many careers and multiple personalities in the many representations of the doll figurine in the movie “Barbie.”

Bella in “Poor Things” can be seen to represent multiple personalities in one person.

In the movie, “Barbie,” Barbie is a toy doll who becomes a real woman.

In the movie, “Poor Things,” Bella is a real woman who becomes a toy doll.

Bella is asking the same musical question of the Oscar-nominated best song and Grammy-winning song from the movie, ”Barbie,” “What Was I Made For,” sung by Billie Eilish and written by Billie Eilish O’Connell and her brother Finneas O’Connell.

What were Barbie and Bella made for?

The theme of female empowerment glows in the 2024 Oscar nominees, whether in picture, actress or supporting actress categories.

In the picture category, female characters figure prominently in the 10 nominated films: “American Fiction,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Barbie,” “The Holdovers,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” “Oppenheimer,” “Past Lives,” “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest.”

In the actress category, the manifestations of womanhood are manifold in the nominees: Annette Bening, “Nyad”; Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”; Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”; Carey Mulligan, “Maestro,” and Emma Stone, “Poor Things.”

In the supporting actress category, each nominee stands on her own: Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”; Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”; America Ferrera, “Barbie”; Jodie Foster, “Nyad,” and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers.”

“Poor Things” 11 Oscar nominations include: Picture, Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Adapted screenplay (Tony McNamara), Cinematography (Robbie Ryan), Film Editing (Yorgos Mavropsaridis), Actress (Emma Stone), Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Original Score (Jerskin Fendrix), Production Design (James Price, production designer; Shona Heath, production designer; Zsuzsa Mihalek, set decorator), Costume Design (Holly Waddington), and Makeup, Hairstyling (Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier, Josh Weston).

What were Barbie and Bella made for? To win Oscars.

On Oscar night, will we say, “Hi, Barbie” or “Hi, Bella”?

Or, maybe, “Hi, Barbie and Bella.”

“Poor Things,”

MPAA rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for strong and pervasive sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing material, gore, and language; Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction, Horror; Run Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes; Distributed by Searchlight Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

The end credits in “Poor Things” are difficult to read because of the font design, point size and atypical placement on the screen. “Poor Things” was filmed was in Origo Studios, Budapest, Hungary, August - December 2021.

At The Movies:

“Poor Things” was seen in the standard format at AMC Center Valley 16.

Theatrical Movie Domestic Weekend Box Office,

Feb. 9-11: “Argylle” continued at No. 1 two weeks in a row, with $6.5 million in 3,605 theaters, as “Lisa Frankenstein” opened at No. 2 with $3.8 million in 3,144 theaters on Super Bowl 58 weekend.

3. “The Beekeeper” stayed in place, $3.4 million in 3,057 theaters, $54.7 million, five weeks. 4. ”The Chosen: Season 4 Episodes 1-3” dropped two places, $3.1 million in 1,955 theaters, $12.5 million, two weeks. 5. “Wonka” dropped one place, $3.1 million in 2,764 theaters, $205.2 million, nine weeks. 6. “Migration” dropped one place, $3 million in 2,884 theaters, $110.1 million, eight weeks. 7. “Anyone But You” stayed in place, $2.7 million in 2,805 theaters, $80.1 million, eight weeks. 8. “Mean Girls” dropped two places, $1.9 million in 2,620 theaters, $69.1 million, five weeks. 9. “American Fiction” dropped one place, $1.3 million in 1,462 theaters, $17.3 million, nine weeks. 10. “Poor Things” dropped one place, $1.1 million in 1,300 theaters, $30.2 million, 10 weeks.

Movie box office information from Box Office Mojo as of Feb. 11 is subject to change.


Feb. 14

“Madame Web,”

PG-13: S.J. Clarkson directs Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts and Adam Scott in the Action, Adventure, Science-Fiction film. The origin story of Marvel Comics heroine Cassandra Webb, a Manhattan paramedic who develops powers to see into the future, is told.

“Bob Marley: One Love,”

PG-13: Reinaldo Marcus Green directs Kingsley Ben-Adir, James Norton, Lashana Lynch and Michael Gandolfini in the Biography, Drama, Music. The story of Bob Marley and reggae music is told.

“What About Love,”

No MPAA rating: Klaus Menzel directs Sharon Stone, Iain Glen and Andy Garcia in the Drama, Romance. Parents learn about love from their children.

“Adam the First,”

No MPAA rating: Irving Franco directs David Duchovny, T.R. Knight, Larry Pine and Lehigh Valley native Oakes Fegley in the drama. A teen travels across the United States in search of his father.


Feb. 16

“Land of Bad,”

R: William Eubank directs Liam Hemsworth, Luke Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, Lincoln Lewis, Ricky Whittle, Milo Ventimiglia in the Action, Thriller. An Air Force combat controller and a drone pilot support a Delta Force team.

“Bleeding Love,”

No MPAA rating: Emma Westenberg directs Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor (real-life daughter of Ewan McGregor) in the Drama. A father and his estranged daughter on a road trip.

Movie opening dates from Internet Movie Database as of Feb. 11 are subject to change.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED IMAGE BY SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES Sitting pretty: Emma Stone (Bella Baxter), Mark Ruffalo (Duncan Wedderburn), “Poor Things.”