Thursday, June 13, 2024

“KINDS OF KINDNESS”

THE STORY – Three stories revolve around a man who tries to take control of his own life, a policeman whose wife seems like a different person, and a woman who searches for someone with a special ability.

THE CAST – Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie & Hunter Schafer

THE TEAM – Yorgos Lanthimos (Director/Writer) & Efthimis Filippou (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 165 Minutes


Following the success of “The Favourite” and “Poor Things,” Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has ditched screenwriter Tony McNamara and reunited with his original writing partner, Efthimis Filippou to deliver a divisive, enigmatic, dark film that feels more akin to his work on “Dogtooth,” “The Lobster” and “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.” Those who prefer those films from the Greek filmmaker will find a lot to enjoy in his new offering, “Kinds Of Kindness,” which has been described as a “triptych fable” consisting of three distinct but loosely connected stories with the same actors across each. In many ways, it feels like he’s laughing in the face of his recent success and returning back to what made him a household name. “Kinds Of Kindness” can be described as many things, but dull is certainly not one of them, as Lanthimos and Filippou continually subvert expectations, lean into the strange, and occasionally shock with a bit of bloody violence along the way. Some will love it and others hate will it, but you cannot deny it’s purely Lanthimos.

The film’s first segment, “The Death of R.M.F,” follows a man named Robert Fletcher (Jesse Plemons), who does everything his powerful boss, Raymond (Willem Dafoe), literally, tells him to do, even if it means not having children with his wife Sarah( Hong Chau). Where Robert finally draws the line is murder, as he’s asked to stage a car accident with a willing participant. Once he breaks free from Raymond, Robert instantly regrets falling out of his boss’s good graces and immediately begs to be taken back into the fold. The second story, “R.M.F. is Flying,” centers around a cop, Daniel (once again played by Plemons), whose wife, Liz (Emma Stone), was stranded on an island for days and was eventually rescued and brought safely back home. However, he’s now having second thoughts about the nature of her identity as her memory seems off and her behavior is different. The third and final segment, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” revolves around Emily’s (Emma Stone again) search to find a woman from her dreams who she believes has the power to bring people back from the dead and will become a spiritual guide for the sex cult her and Andrew (Plemons again) belong to under the leadership of Omi (Dafoe again) and Aka (Hong Chau again). All three tackle similar themes of seeking adoration, acceptance, submissiveness, and longing as various kinds of kindness are displayed throughout, sprinkled alongside kinds of cruelty.

Many declared with “The Favourite” and “Poor Things” that Lanthimos had taken his distinct style and gone as far mainstream with it as he could. And you cannot deny those two films’ triumphs critically and financially, and with the Academy as Lanthimos, Stone, and the two films were all nominated for Oscars. “Kinds Of Kindness” will likely not have the same level of success as those two films, and that’s perfectly fine because, if anything, it proves Lanthimos’s artistry and creative voice have remained intact and are in no danger of going anywhere anytime soon. Shot on a lower budget, spread out over the course of nearly three hours, “Kinds Of Kindness” may not contain the same dazzlement of his previous two films in terms of their production and costume design (though, shoutout to the modern costumes regardless for standing out and Robbie Ryan’s impeccable lensing capturing some striking images in a contemporary setting) but much like how Quentin Tarantino could make people talking in rooms highly entertaining, watchable and quotable with something like “Pulp Fiction,” so too does Lanthimos in this talky, darkly humorous and highly sexy film.

Opening with the blasting bass of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” over its opening credits, Lanthimos is determined to give his hardcore audience a good time and something thematically worth chewing on. Although it may feel a tad overlong, with the film’s second story dragging out the most, having each story stand on its own and not share overlapping characters helps keep the experience fresh and intriguing. There is a seductiveness to the enigmatic storytelling as character motivations start off unclear and come into focus more as each story moves along. Their desires can be understood on a basic level, or only as far as the screenplay will allow us to comprehend. On a far more specific level, they remain as bizarre and dark as only Lanthimos and Filippou can conjure, leading to a film that keeps you at a distance while also keeping you on your toes, wondering what unexpected turns it will take next. Some characters behave in ways we don’t fully understand, and some do. Some are designed to have us root for them, some are kept mysterious, and some are deliberately placed as a central antagonist (such as Emily’s husband, Joseph, played by Joe Alwyn in the film’s third story). This guarded nature of the storytelling allows for many surprising moments of audacious and hilarious sight gags, whether it’s a black-and-white flashback, a moment of violence or something so peculiar, only those who . adore Lanthimos’s brand of humor will find amusing.

Each of the principal actors, Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, and Mamoudou Athie, brings their A-game to the highly unusual material, making these characters relatable and empathetic despite the absurd situations surrounding them. Each is donning a specific look for each story, so we always distinguish one character an actor is playing from another and never confuse the three of them. Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons are the closest to what could be considered leads for this film as Plemons dominates “The Death of R.M.F,” he and Emma Stone share “R.M.F. is Flying,” and then Stone takes over for “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.” Both of them carry the film efficiently through their captivating screen presences and natural charisma, earning our empathy at every turn and allowing for the film’s messaging to be absorbed. All other actors play vital and memorable supporting roles, some with more presence than others, with Hunter Schafer receiving the tiniest bit of all in the opening “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” as a prospect Emily is testing to see if she is the woman from her dreams she’s been looking for. Willem Dafoe feels wholly comfortable in any situation Lanthimos asks of him; Margaret Qualley continues to show us her immeasurable range, while Mamoudou Athie, Hong Chau, and Joe Alwyn all deliver serviceable work for their characters.

Like the purple Dodge Challenger, Emily drives ferociously with reckless abandon throughout “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” Lanthimos is steering the wheel of this film wildly with little to no care if his newfound audience in recent years loves it or despises it. And it’s all admirable on every single level for he is one of the most captivating directorial voices we have out there working today. With that said, not all of “Kinds Of Kindness” works. Some stories and characters are more compelling than others. At the same time, the film’s pacing may try the audience’s patience with only a few surprising moments of comedy, violence, or drama to zap them back to life before lulling them back to a place of puzzlement, and the whole process starts all over again. But just as certain characters’s dreams inform the present, so too does the mind of Lanthimos (and Filippou), as his three fables ask us to be kinder to one another, to understand the limits of that kindness and to not fall victim of seeking it too desperately.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Three twisted, darkly humorous, sexy and bizarre stories under the watchful and distinctive eye of Yorgos Lanthimos. All of the actors bring their A-game to the highly strange but enjoyable material.

THE BAD - The overlong runtime, pacing and dark storytelling will undoubtedly turn off some viewers who have preferred Lanthimos's more recent work compared to his previous collaborations with Efthimis Filippou.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Matt Neglia
Matt Negliahttps://nextbestpicture.com/
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Three twisted, darkly humorous, sexy and bizarre stories under the watchful and distinctive eye of Yorgos Lanthimos. All of the actors bring their A-game to the highly strange but enjoyable material.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The overlong runtime, pacing and dark storytelling will undoubtedly turn off some viewers who have preferred Lanthimos's more recent work compared to his previous collaborations with Efthimis Filippou.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"KINDS OF KINDNESS"