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Emma Stone  delivers career best in weird yet profound ‘Poor Things’

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman
Emma Stone  delivers career best in weird yet profound �Poor Things�
Emma Stone’s performance as Bella Baxter in “Poor Things” is nominated for Best Actress at the 95th Oscars.

CEBU, Philippines — Seven years after her first Oscar win for “La La Land”, Emma Stone may get her second trophy in the Best Actress category after critics widely praised her performance in “Poor Things” – with many saying it’s her best performance to date.

While some, including myself, prefer that Native American actress Lily Gladstone win in the category for her equally excellent performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon”, it’s also not unreasonable for Stone to nab another Oscar this March 10.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Scottish author Alasdair Gray, “Poor Things” is set in a loose Victorian London, focusing on a woman named Bella Baxter (Stone) who was resurrected as an entirely different person by her adoptive father and Frankenstein-like surgeon Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe).

She is found dead by Baxter (nicknamed God by Bella) who then replaces her dead brain by her unborn fetus, making her a fully-grown woman with the personality of a baby, and then a child, at the start of the film.

As her mental growth accelerates at a fast pace, she becomes curious about the world outside of her home. ‘God’ initially hesitates to let Bella outside due to the sins and temptations she might be exposed to, before realizing that he can’t confine her within their bubble anymore. Her mind is closely syncing with her adult body and has grown to grasp the concept of free will.

From there, the woman with a childlike personality slowly gains independence in a global journey of self-discovery where she is exposed to unfair power dynamics and people who don’t have pure intentions as she’d hoped. However, Bella’s love of reading, learning, sex, and helping people solidify the kind of person she wants to be. She also slowly learns the pieces of her former life as the pregnant Victoria before she killed herself by jumping off a bridge.

This is Stone’s second collaboration with Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos after working together in 2018’s “The Favourite” where Stone was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. You can see why Stone and Lanthimos are a match made in heaven as the actress is at her most inner element working with her favorite director.

While not technically funny in a traditional hilarious sense, playing Bella requires a subtle balance between comedy and drama that doesn’t come off cartoonish, which Stone nailed. American actors attempting a British accent are a mixed bag, and Stone’s accent here is one of the rare good examples.

Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), knows how to make his films feel like one is witnessing a real-life painting coming to life. The way he presents his colorful or muted scenes in black and white makes it worth watching his films on the big screen.

The rest of the cast did amazing jobs too. Mark Ruffalo delivers a gleefully evil portrayal of corrupt lawyer Duncan Wedderburn who wants to use Emma for his selfish gain. Dafoe plays an eco-centric maniac, yet a caring father to Bella – which makes his character sympathetic despite questionable morals and unethical experiments. Stand-up comedians Ramy Youssef and Jerrod Carmichael did wonderful as Max McCandles and Harry Astley, respectively: their performances were more dramatic than comedic, showing that funnymen too can do dramatic roles very well.

One of the striking parts in “Poor Things” was its depiction of sexuality. Some would argue that the amount of sex scenes was crucial for Bella’s character development to grasp the bigger picture of inequality between genders and gain ownership of her body. Others would disagree and say it was gratuitous, given that the main character had her first experience when she still has the mindset of a teenager.

Regardless of how you feel about the sex scenes, it doesn’t change the fact that “Poor Things” is a unique coming-of-age story with a lot of heart. It shows that you can be yourself in a world that may frown upon one’s outstanding character, and you can be a good person if you’re empathetic and come with pure intentions.

Throughout the film, Bella has to deal with a lot of judgment about her behavior because she has made her desires clear in a time that was still conservative. Of course, the character did learn a lot from her journey being exposed to the world’s ills such as wealth inequality and men attempting to take advantage of her, to which she always triumphs by standing her ground and establishing boundaries.

As those experiences helped form her perspective of the world better, her never-ending enthusiasm to learn and help others whenever there is an opportunity, makes Bella a relatable character with her unique, loveable personality.

Some may find “Poor Things” too weird for their liking which is understandable given how the narrative was presented. But at the same time, it’s a Shallow way of seeing this movie as a profound story of discovering self-independence, especially as a woman living in conservative Victorian London.

Running at two hours and 20 minutes, it didn’t feel like any scene was a waste of time thanks to Stone’s vigor. In an age when attention spans are shrinking, it says a lot about the actress if she can capture viewers for more than two hours – a testament to why she deserves her Best Actress nomination at this year’s Oscars, which is packed with huge talent. Four and a half stars out of five. — (FREEMAN)

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