Kinds of Kindness (USA/UK/Ireland, 2024)

June 26, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Kinds of Kindness Poster

To date, The Favourite ranks as the nearest Yorgos Lanthimos has come to making something easily accessible to mainstream movie-goers. Poor Things comes in a close second, despite its Frankenstein­-inspired weirdness. But, with Kinds of Kindness, the filmmaker returns to the groove that earned his well-deserved reputation as an iconoclast visionary. The film, which tells three distinct stories each featuring the same primary cast members in different roles, is sometimes frustrating, often challenging, occasionally hilarious, and always intriguing. It may be too high a mountain to climb for those in search of an undemanding night at the cinema but is a perfect interlude for anyone looking for offbeat fare.

None of the three stories that unspool during the film’s 160-plus running time are narratively complete. They have beginnings and endings but don’t follow any sort of consistent logic. Lanthimos isn’t interested in straightforward storytelling. He’s more interested in moments, mood, and emotional beats. Oh, and laughs. Kinds of Kindness is his most overtly comedic movie, although his humor is dark, edgy, and macabre. The biggest joke is the last one; it’s blisteringly funny, existentially appropriate, and totally unexpected. None of the three “fables” – titled “The Death of R.M.F.,” “R.M.F. Is Flying,” and “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” – has what one would call an airtight plot but each has enough of a storyline for viewers to sort-of figure out what’s happening. Maybe.

Looking to the titles for clues is a fruitless endeavor, although I suppose each is technically accurate. Actor Yorgos Stefanakos plays “R.M.F.,” the only character to appear in all three stories but he’s mostly unimportant to the proceedings, a red herring that might lead viewers to believe there’s some greater narrative arc in place. If one was to look for an overarching theme, it might have something to do with the pervasive, invidious influence of charismatic figures (although “R.M.F. Is Flying” may be an outlier in that respect). All three segments are roughly the same length and, although there are a few supporting actors who appear in only one, the majority of the cast carries through, although the size of their roles varies.

“The Death of R.M.F.” is my favorite. Jesse Plemons plays Robert, a businessman who is deep in thrall to his wealthy, powerful boss/mentor, Raymond (Willem Dafoe). In return for allowing Raymond complete control over every aspect of his life, including when he can have sex with his wife, Sarah (Hong Chau), Robert gets to live a life of comparative luxury. There comes a time, however, when one of Raymond’s requests is too much for Robert to absorb and that results in a decision he is destined to regret. Emma Stone has a small role as Rita, although she’s not on screen for much of this segment.

In “R.M.F. Is Flying,” Plemons plays police officer Daniel, whose marine biologist wife, Liz (Stone), is lost at sea. After her location is discovered and she returns home, Daniel finds her a changed woman. His contention that Liz has somehow been replaced is met with profound skepticism by her father (Dafoe) and their friends/sex partners, Martha (Margaret Qualley) and Neil (Mamoudou Athie). Determined to prove his suspicion, Daniel begins to traverse a dangerous path.

“R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” takes audiences into a cult, where partners Andrew (Plemons) and Emily (Stone) are seeking a mystical healer whose coming has been foretold. The two, who are neither married nor romantically involved, are members of a congregation that practices free love with the founders/leaders, Omi (Dafoe) and Aka (Chau). Emily, however, has difficulty severing the ties that bind her to her husband, Joseph (Joe Alwyn), and daughter (Merah Benoit). When she loses Omi and Aka’s favor, she embarks on a solo mission the find the healer, whom she suspects to be one of two identical twins, Rebecca and Ruth (Qualley).

Kinds of Kindness combines comedic flourishes, dramatic elements, and thriller aspects into a whole that is guaranteed to leave many viewers nonplussed by the lack of full resolutions. Each episode has a clear, well-defined ending that concludes the main narrative but by no means answers all the questions. There are times when Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou seem to be going out of their way to be eccentric; the sense of artificiality becomes so overbearing that the characters lose their humanity.

Kinds of Kindness isn’t a masterpiece nor is it even a great movie, but the inherent unpredictability in Lanthimos’ approach makes for a fun and surprising three hours. By changing things up every 50 minutes (or so), the director keeps viewers from becoming antsy. There are always new mysteries to solve, new questions to ponder, and new characters to discover. Kinds of Kindness may not offer the kind of full experience provided by Poor Things but it is a reminder of the responses a movie can engender when the director doesn’t play by the rules.

Kinds of Kindness (USA/UK/Ireland, 2024)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, Joe Alwyn
Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
Music: Jerskin Fendrix
U.S. Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Run Time: 2:45
U.S. Release Date: 2024-06-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Content, Violence, Nudity, Profanity)
Genre: Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1