The Movie Waffler New Release Review - KINDS OF KINDNESS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - KINDS OF KINDNESS

Kinds of Kindness review
Three stories from Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer

Kinds of Kindness poster

Yorgos Lanthimos reunites with Efthimis Filippou, his regular screenwriter before his recent Tony McNamara collaborations, for Kinds of Kindness, an anthology film consisting of three tales, all of which feature the same recurring cast members. Part of the appeal of portmanteau films is that if you're not vibing with one story you know another will come along pretty soon. With each segment running close to an hour, that's not the case here. If the absurdist tone doesn't hook you from the start, you'll likely find Kinds of Kindness a test of your patience. But while it's exhausting and unwieldy in stretches, it's entertaining and amusing often enough to make it a worthwhile venture for those already onboard with Lanthimos.

Of the many anthology movies that have come before it, the one Kinds of Kindness reminded me of the most is Lewis Teague's Stephen King adaptation Cat's Eye. Like that 1985 movie, the three stories presented in Kinds of Kindness see their protagonists take extreme measures to prove their loyalty. If you swapped out James Woods and Alan King for Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe, the Quitters Inc segment of Cat's Eye, in which Woods finds himself under the increasingly maniacal control of King as he attempts to quit smoking, would be right at home here. There's also a child here who is referred to by her parents as simply "the little one," which makes me wonder if it's a nod to Drew Barrymore only ever being referred to as "our girl" in Teague's film.

Kinds of Kindness review

Plemons and Dafoe are two of the central recurring figures, along with Emma Stone, Margaret Qualley and Hong Chau. Greek actor Yorgos Stefanakos appears in all three tales in the non-speaking role of RMF, who lends his name to each story's title. We open with 'The Death of RMF', in which Plemons plays Robert, a man whose life is under the intense control of his boss Raymond (Dafoe). Raymond decides how much weight Robert should put on, and has insisted that he can't have children with his wife Sarah (Chau). In return Robert is rewarded with a well paid job, a nice house and frequent gifts of sports memorabilia, including a smashed John McEnroe racket and the helmet Ayrton Senna wore at the time of his fatal crash. Robert begins to question this pact when Raymond demands that he slam his car at high speed into a vehicle driven by RMF, who Raymond claims has willingly agreed to be killed.

The second story, 'RMF is Flying', is the most conventional of the three, and certainly the least original. Here Plemons is Daniel, a cop whose marine biologist wife Liz (Stone) has been missing at sea for several months. When Liz is finally found and returned to Daniel, he begins to suspect that the woman in his home isn't really his wife. It's an idea we've seen countless times before and aside from a sharp turn into body-horror towards its conclusion, Lanthimos doesn't add a whole lot to this concept (see the recent Irish horror You Are Not My Mother for a better version of this story).

The final segment sees Plemons take a back seat and Stone take centre stage. They play Andrew and Emily, a married couple who are members of a cult dedicated to the idea of raising the dead. Emily believes that a woman she saw in a dream is the key to fulfilling the cult's prophecy. Discovering a pair of twins (both played by Qualley) who look identical to the woman from her vision, Emily takes a series of extreme measures to impress her leaders (Dafoe and Chau). This one is somewhat reminiscent of Todd Solondz, especially when Emily pays a visit to her abusive ex-husband (Joe Alwyn), and also nods to Ralph L. Thomas's Ticket to Heaven in its depiction of its cult, with one particular shot recreated wholesale from Thomas's film.

Kinds of Kindness review

If you remove their more absurdist elements, the three stories of Kinds of Kindness aren't a million miles from what you might find in an anthology show like Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Tales of the Unexpected. They have the brand of misanthropic pessimism you find in the darker stories of Roald Dahl and Guy de Maupassant, but Lanthimos and Filippou don't possess the natural storytelling abilities of either of those short form masters. The ideas here are half-formed at best and we often feel as though we're watching a first draft that was rushed into production while Lanthimos is still flavour of the month.

The stories themselves aren't particularly gripping, and all three have anti-climactic resolutions, so it's left to the absurdism to keep us entertained. It's in this aspect that we're reminded of what Lanthimos's films without Filippou have been missing, those genuinely odd touches that once led to the coining of the label "Greek Weird Wave." When Kinds of Kindness allows itself to get truly weird it momentarily soars: one of the stories is capped with a montage of dogs scored to Dio's cock rock anthem 'Rainbow in the Dark' that is like nothing you've ever seen before, and there's a hilarious comic beat involving a "home movie."

Kinds of Kindness review

But what's most compelling about Kinds of Kindness is the novelty of seeing some of America's finest working actors inhabit a variety of roles and display their range. Plemons and Stone are remarkable across all three segments, with three performances that are so distinct from one another that you forget about their previous characters within seconds of them inhabiting a fresh role. It's a welcome throwback to the TV era when you could watch Vera Miles play a killer one week and a victim a month later on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or the 1975 ABC movie of the week Trilogy of Terror, in which Karen Black played four wildly different roles (jncluding, like Qualley here, a set of twins) across three separate stories.

For all its flaws, Kinds of Kindness is a reminder of why so many actors want to work with Lanthimos, as he offers the chance to inhabit the sort of bizarre roles that just aren't common in English language cinema today. But in the many moments when Kinds of Kindness grinds to a halt, you might find yourself wishing that such resources had been gifted instead to that other European arch-absurdist Quentin Dupieux, whose own recent anthology, Smoking Causes Coughing, managed to pack in more absurdism and comedy in half the running time.

Kinds of Kindness is in UK/ROI cinemas from June 28th.

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