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I Fell Asleep Watching Poor Things

"I am Bella Baxter, strange feathered lady."

Poor Things is the story of a madman who finds a dying pregnant woman and does what anyone would do: he puts the baby's brain in the mother's head, sort of saving two lives while creating another.

The new creation, Bella, grows up to discover herself, explore the world, and lead the audience into a more enlightened worldview.

I guess.

There's a lot of charm in this movie. For example, I couldn't possibly say enough good things about the music. Its discordant screeches and dissonant plucking give us the impression of child's toy falling apart, which is exactly how Bella looks when she staggers around her home, unsure of how her legs work, or when she sits in oversized chairs like a doll.

And the set design is genius. Once again, I love it when we actually use sets instead of throwing everything in front of a green screen. You'd think computer animation would open us up to more options, but it seems like real creativity comes out when we have to use brick and mortar. (This probably has a lot to do with the cost of CGI and the tiny, tiny schedules the animators are on.)

But as a story, Poor Things is empty.

Bella wants to marry a guy. Then she runs away with a lawyer who was preparing the marriage agreement. They fight a lot. She has a drawing on her thigh. He hates it. He surprises her with a boat trip. She hates it. And... it goes on and on like that. There is lots of yelling, so it's a good movie for people who miss their families and want to hear people scream at each other.

And, guys, this movie is sooooo deep. Bella calls her dad "God" in adorable attempt at philosophical irony. It's got swear words galore, which are supposed to show us how grown up the movie is, but it comes across like a middle schooler cussing every sentence to look tough for his friends. And everyone's naked. (If you want to know what Emma Stone looks like au naturale, you've come to the right movie.) None of it is titillating or interesting, it's just there because the filmmakers want us to know they're not prudes. Look, there's another wiener. Would a prude be showing you all these wieners?

Continuing the theme of smashing social norms, Bella finds great joy in her job as a prostitute. As we learned from Game of Thrones, prostitution is, apparently, a fun part-time job, full of empowerment and chummy co-workers. (Assuming you're young and skinny. Empowerment isn't for everyone.)

Themes of communism are touched on, but not in a way that actually tangles with any issues. When philosophy is brought up, we hear a bit about Emerson, but he's as useless as silly string and we don't really dig into his ideas. (Since the theme is personal freedom, why not examine Thoreau's thesis on slavery?) I'm supposed to think Bella is finding a better way to live that elevates her worldview above ours, but for its entire two hours and twenty-one minutes we don't dive into any deep thoughts or hear any new ideas.

Well... probably. I fell asleep in the second act and woke up when they were yelling at each other. I took a walk to check out movie posters and when I came back there was more yelling. I could have missed something interesting, but I'm pretty sure it was just graphic sex and loud arguments.

The unnerving thing is that all of this happens with no narrative arc. The movie never makes a promise to go anywhere in particular. Scenes beget more scenes with no telos, no end in sight.

And since post-religion/enlightenment types are oddly drawn to Edenic imagery, we end our tale in a colorful garden, having humiliated the confident males and entered a new age of illumination by alluding to feminism and socialism without actually talking about them.

Final Analysis: Incredible acting, and superb creative and technical achievements, but, overall, Poor Things is a nothing burger with nothing on the side.

Adam D. Jones is a writer, historian, and undefeated cat wrestler. He has also attempted to create life, having once used a looping video of himself to pretend he was paying attention in a Zoom meeting.

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