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‘Kinds of Kindness’ review: Darkly comedic anthology explores humanity

After the hopeful Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest is an anthology piece that returns to his disturbing roots.

Throughout his filmography, Yorgos Lanthimos is interested in themes of love and obsession, often explored with characters, who seem to be living on the edge of normal society, as evident in 2009’s Dogtooth, which centered on a husband and wife who keep their children ignorant of the world outside their property well into adulthood. 2024 is already quite the year for the Greek director as his previous outing Poor Things has been a critical and commercial success that has won four awards at this year’s Oscars, and now his latest feature Kinds of Kindness is finally released. 

Amidst the Frankenstein-like science and “furious jumping”, Poor Things is more of a crowd-pleaser through its story of self-discovery within the harsh reality of the otherwise outlandish world. Reunited with his long-time collaborator/co-writer Efthimis Filippou, Kinds of Kindness – set in modern-day New Orleans – is closer to Lanthimos’ earlier work like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, where people are plunged into situations that effectively shake up their lives and lose any touch of humanity in order to get out of it. 

Since Lanthimos’ films often challenge you, though not without some dark humor creeping into the mix, Kinds of Kindness is essentially three films for the price of one, with the same seven actors – Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn and Mamoudou Athie – appearing in each one in a different role.

The first of which, titled “The Death of R.M.F”, is about Robert Fletcher (Plemons) who follows every order that is given to him by his controlling boss, Raymond (Dafoe), until he refuses to do an act which causes his life to fall apart. Similar to Lanthimos’ 2019 short film Nimic, it is a darkly funny study of a man who regrets this one decision and how it spirals out of control, with an extraordinary turn from Plemons, who tries to maintain his composure and yet it looks he’s about to break. 

Considering the disturbing outcome of the first narrative, it feels tamed compared to the second story, “R.M.F. is Flying”. Left emotionally devastated after the disappearance of his wife Liz (Emma Stone), a marine biologist, police officer Daniel (Plemons) receives a call saying she has been rescued. As she returns home, her strange and seemingly reversed behavior leads to Daniel suspecting her of being an imposter. As well as being more disturbing and ambiguous than the other two narratives, “R.M.F. is Flying” cements a central theme which is somewhat meta to the film’s multiple casting of the same actors, playing characters who are wrestling with their own identity. Playing a married couple that is becoming more about obsessive delusions, leading to horrific abuse, Stone and Plemons are amazing in roles where you can’t tell whose side you should be on, if any. 

As great as Emma Stone is in the first two narratives, it is in “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” where she really gets to shine, and yes, this is where she performs her improvised dance that has been used in the film’s promotion. In this third and final instalment, Emily and Andrew (Stone and Plemons) are two cult members who are looking for a woman with the ability to bring back the dead. Considering this is the closest to a Coen Brothers film, where it almost feels like an enjoyable crime caper, what could easily be a cautionary tale about not joining a sex cult led by Dafoe’s Omi, the story makes a dark implication into why Emily would choose the life of a cultist, as seen in a scene where she revisits her old life as a mother and a wife. 

Emma Stone Dancing GIF by Searchlight Pictures

Considering the hopeful nature and visual experimentation of Poor Things, whether consciously or not, it feels Lanthimos wants to return a world where there is no positive outcome of anybody, whilst cinematographer Robbie Ryan, shooting on 35mm Kodak film, presents a stunning, if mundane look of the many settings of New Orleans. Amongst the loose connective tissue between these three tales, including the brilliant cast and similar locations, the only sense of hope that Kinds of Kindness is the dreams that some of the characters have and no matter how nonsensical they are, it is better than the harshness that the real world can throw at them. One dream involving dogs delivers the biggest laugh-out-loud film of the entire film.

kinds of kindness
‘Kinds of Kindness’ review: Darkly comedic anthology explores humanity
Kinds of Kindness
Returning to the director's roots, so to speak, Kinds of Kindness is strange, uncomfortable and challenging, if you can adjust to the tone of this near-three-hour anthology piece, you will enjoy this experience where you don’t know whether to laugh or pleasantly appalled at.
Reader Rating0 Votes
An incredible cast – with Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons taking center stage – that go into strange places by playing three separate roles.
Three distinct storylines that are a darkly comedic exploration of love and obsession, a recurring theme in Lanthimos' filmography.
Balancing moments of dark humor, with profound ideas about identity and purpose...
...even though the lack of easy answers and the lengthy running time will challenge a good section of the audience.

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