Emma Stone delivers a performance you'll never forget in "Poor Things," an outrageously hilarious free-for-all now in theaters on its way to multiple Oscar nominations, including best picture, best director (Yorgos Lanthimos) and especially best actress for Stone. Want to know the definition of highwire acting? This is it! We may never again see Stone this nakedly unafraid.
Just look at her star entrance as Bella Baxter, a pregnant and suicidally unhappy wife who plunges to her watery death off a bridge only to be reanimated by a nutjob scientist -- a fantastic Willem Dafoe in Frankenstein mode -- who swaps her dead brain for that of her unborn baby.
Get ready for laughs spiked with gasp-inducing absurdity and titillation. And Lanthimos, working from a brilliant, saucy script by Tony McNamara, who adapted the 1992 novel of the same name by Alasdair Grey, positively revels in the naughty sexy fun of ogling the impossible coming to life on screen.
We're in Victorian London in the lab of Dafoe's God, short for Dr. Godwin Baxter, whose experiment in Bella exceeds even the hybrid creatures -- a pig-dog, a duck-goat -- that scamper around his lab as a sign of things to come for Bella, who's a rock star of primal urges.
Stomping around like a toddler, spitting out her food, throwing tantrums, refusing toilet training and rubbing herself to "get happiness," Bella is the id unleashed. And the fearless Stone plays her without a trace of inhibition. Rarely has a performer given herself so totally to a role.
The good doctor needs help and finds it in student Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef, wonderful), hired to track Bella's progress in vocabulary and motor skills. Poor Max also falls in love, agreeing to a proposed marriage the doctor thinks will keep Bella's impulses under control.
Silly boys. Above all, "Poor Things" is a tale of female empowerment. And no way is Bella ready to cede control of her body and spirit to any man. She finds her path out through Godwin's libertine lawyer Duncan Wedderburn -- Mark Ruffalo letting his freak flag fly in his funniest performance. Accustomed to bending women to his will, Duncan is in for a rude awakening.
As this lawyer sweeps Bella out of the lab -- shot in glorious "Bride of Frankenstein" black-and-white -- and into the big, wide world of color, the great cinematographer Robbie Ryan performs steampunk miracles, shooting the lush costumes and wildly absurdist production design to create eye-popping landscapes that defy description.
From a luxury cruise ship to adventures in Portugal, Greece and Egypt, Bella indulges in every kind of intercourse -- she calls it "furious jumping" -- until she notices the low place of women in polite society. Leaving Duncan for a stint at a Paris brothel (don't ask), Bella soon organizes sex workers for better treatment from their tattooed madame (a dark and dazzling Kathryn Hunter).
Bella's emancipation maddens Duncan. Like Brando shouted "Stella" in "A Streetcar Named Desire," Ruffalo howls "Bella" to the woman who has now outgrown him. Ruffalo is comic perfection, losing it completely when he can't get his way. Duncan's revenge on Bella involves informing her husband (a mesmerizing, menacing Christopher Abbott) that she's still alive.
That betrayal leads to a climax that I won't spoil. Just know that "Poor Things," cannonballing with surprises, is like nothing you've ever seen. Lanthimos, having previously teamed with Stone in 2018's "The Favourite," is part of the Greek Weird Wave, finding the crazed wisdom buried in madness, as he did in "Dogtooth," "The Lobster" and "The Killing of the Sacred Deer."
Lanthimos and Stone are a match made in bizarro movie heaven. That's why watching them raise hell in the name of one woman's self realization is just the antidote to ho-hum Hollywood we need right now. You won't know what hit you, except that this voluptuously beautiful can of whup-ass is one of the very best movies of the year. I'm rabid to see it again.