Film reviews and more since 2009

Kinds of Kindness (2024) review

Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

While watching Kinds of Kindness, at more than one point I wondered what French director Quentin Dupieux would think of Yorgos Lanthimos’ pictures. Both men have their finger firmly on the pulse of the absurd, although Dupieux’s tendencies are justified by his famous “no reason” explanation (as seen in the cult-favorite Rubber) whereas there often exist deeper themes in Lanthimos’ works. The common denominator between the two, for me personally, is I often wind up liking or at least admiring their films for reasons I find difficult to articulate.

Lanthimos, the wickedly original Greek auteur who gave us Poor Things, one of the most sublime movies of last year, gifts us a nearly three-hour anthology with Kinds of Kindness. Following his masterwork so closely was a gumptious decision, especially considering Kinds of Kindness has more in common with his earlier pictures, such as Dogtooth and The Lobster, which introduced him to a larger American audience. While his perpetual love of weirdness and depraved dark humor never went away in Poor Things nor The Favourite, it was no less softened just a tad for broader commercial interest.

Not to mention, back is Lanthimos’ co-writer, Efthimis Filippou, who helped bring The Lobster and The Killing a Sacred Deer to life.

A triptych anthology, Kinds of Kindness tells three stories that are linked by cast and tone. Jesse Plemons, Emma Stone, and Willem Dafoe hold prominent roles in all three, while Hong Chau (The Menu), Margaret Qualley (Drive-Away Dolls), Mamoudou Athie (Jurassic World Dominion), and Joe Alwyn (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) play various supporting characters.

The first is “The Death of R.M.F.,” in which Plemons plays Robert, who holds a cushy corporate job working for a mogul named Raymond (Dafoe). Raymond will make your bastard boss look like Mister Rogers. Robert is forced to live his life exactly to his boss’ instructions, laid out on daily note-cards dictating everything from his shirt, his night-time reading material, to when he can have sex with his wife (Chau). When Raymond demands that Robert crash his SUV into another man’s vehicle at an intersection late at night, that’s where he draws the line. Despite the fact that the man has apparently agreed to die, Robert can’t bring himself to do such a thing. As a result, Robert is fired, and Raymond takes a new employee (Stone) under his wing, leaving Robert completely listless, unable to make a decision about even the smallest things, like what drink to have at a bar.

The second story is “R.M.F. is Flying,” where Plemons plays Daniel, a police officer grieving the loss of his wife (Stone), who went missing on a diving expedition. In effort to comfort Daniel, his coworker (Athie) and wife (Qualley) drop by to have dinner with him. Daniel insists they watch old videos. Let’s just say, these aren’t wedding videos or something of that nature. Eventually, out of the blue, Daniel’s wife (Stone) returns, but he notices something is off about her. He demands that perform a series of outlandish and/or painful tasks as if to proof she truly is the woman she married.

The third and final story is “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” in which Stone and Plemons play Emily and Andrew, devoted members of a cult led by Omi (Dafoe). The two are on an important mission revolving around finding a mysterious woman with a very specific life story; she can also resurrect the dead. Finding this woman is a grueling task, for Omi even tells his two followers the exact proportions of her breasts and navel. Either Emily or Andrew will eventually be “contaminated” in their pursuit of finding this woman, kicked out of the cult, and left to fend for themselves.

Bear in mind that these shorts are all nearly an hour in length; “The Death of R.M.F.” alone feels (and might exhaust) like a full movie in itself. By the time the third arrives, your commitment has already surpassed the two-hour mark. Kinds of Kindness could be considered a sampler pack of Lanthimos’ style and recurring narrative inclusions, such as surrealism, nudity, body horror, deadpan dialog, and other welcomed weirdness. In regards to the latter, Emma Stone dancing and grooving while a barely conscious woman sits in a wheelchair comes to mind.

Plemons and Stone are the glue that holds this anthology together. It’s hard to believe an actor as wonderfully weird as Plemons hasn’t linked with Lanthimos until now, as one would suspect the two have matching energies. This is Stone’s third film with the Greek auteur. Beyond being one of the finest actresses of her generation, Stone is firmly on the filmmaker’s wavelength.

Finding a common-thread amongst these shorts beyond “R.M.F.” (the initials of a man played by Yorgos Stefanakos in all three) is tough. In each, love and the extreme lengths we go to keep the spark alive are present. I found the first to be the most accomplished in story and tone. Underneath the absurdity of the premise is the ever-present theme of control. Robert’s boss controls every aspect of his life; when he’s released, he loses his sense of identity and self. At one point, Robert’s boss gives him tennis legend John McEnroe’s smashed racquet as a gift (perhaps symbolizing what happens when control and composure is lost). This theme is buried a bit in the second, evidenced only by Daniel persistent demands to his wife to prove she is who she says she is. In the final, the two cult-members go to great lengths trying to revive one of their own. The parallels are there, but they’re not always clear.

As a result, Kinds of Kindness wore me down, and its gargantuan length coupled with the fact that it’s an anthology movie suggests Lanthimos and Filippou couldn’t quite get any of the ensuing shorts to feature-length. In addition to the performances, Robbie Ryan’s (again) stellar cinematography that favors space and wide-shots, along with Jerskin Fendrix’s atonal piano keys continued to lure me back in. What does it all add up to? A grotesquely entertaining, if occasionally maddening stroll through the mind of one of the most eclectic auteurs today.

NOTE: Kinds of Kindness is now playing exclusively in theaters.

My review of The Lobster (2015)
My review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer
My review of The Favourite (2018)
My review of Poor Things

Starring: Jesse Plemons, Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Hong Chau, Margaret Qualley, Mamoudou Athie, Joe Alwyn, Hunter Schafer, and Yorgos Stefanakos. Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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