Film Review: “Kinds of Kindness” – Yorgos Is as Good as Mine

By Ed Symkus

The latest film from Yorgos Lanthimos is a confusing mishmash of forced weirdness.

Kinds of Kindness is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and written by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. It’s playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, AMC Boston Common, and Kendall Square Cinema.

Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau in a scene from Kinds of Kindness. Photo: Searchlight Pictures

I’ve seen five of the nine features Yorgos Lanthimos has made over the past two decades: The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite, Poor Things, and his newest, Kinds of Kindness.

He’s become, in my mind, an artist to look forward to, a director and (at times) writer who is a master of his craft and in unafraid to take chances. Lanthimos has a recognizable cinematic style and an affinity for tossing bizarre animals and aberrant sexual practices into the mix, but his approaches to projects have always come from different places. The atmosphere he’s brought to different films has ranged from the inventive and disturbing to the elegant and, alas, with Kinds of Kindness, the head-shakingly haphazard.

It’s a film from a director who’s made a batch of decidedly weird films but, in this case, has tried to out-weird himself, to the detriment of the film.

When I got home after a screening of it, my wife asked me what it was about. That’s a question that I wasn’t able to tackle yet. My immediate answer was, “I don’t know.” Her immediate reply was, “Oh, come on!”

I said it was a trio of unrelated stories that each featured mostly the same actors playing different characters in different settings and situations; that there wasn’t enough substance to any of the stories; that there wasn’t any feeling of compassion for the characters or adequate understanding as to what makes them tick; and that, at a 164-minute running time, the damn thing was far too long.

“But what’s it about?” she demanded.

I told her that it opened with the Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but there wasn’t one sweet moment to be seen. Nor, for something titled Kinds of Kindness, was there any kindness on display. But this is what it’s about:

Detail-oriented Robert (Jesse Plemons, Best Actor winner at Cannes for the part) works for control freak Raymond (Willem Dafoe) and is married to unhappy Sarah (Hong Chau). When Robert refuses to kill a person for Raymond, Robert’s world turns upside down, and his relationship with Sarah is severed. Robert attempts to pick up Rita (Emma Stone) — a woman in a bar — by staging an “accident” to get her attention. But it’s Rita who, due to a different “accident,” ends up in a hospital, where she’s visited by Raymond and his wife Vivian (Margaret Qualley) before Robert can get there.

Note: It was at this point that I jotted in my notebook: “What the hell is going on?”

At the 52-minute mark, the credits ran, identifying actors with their characters. Three minutes later, a new story began. Plemons plays a cop named Daniel, whose wife Liz has gone missing after a boating accident. Dafoe plays Liz’s dad, Qualley is cast as a friend of Daniel and Liz. Liz, after being rescued from a deserted island and returning home, is played by Stone.

This segment featured my favorite bits of dialogue.

Liz to Daniel: “I have good news. I’m pregnant.”

Daniel in response: “I want you to get out of my house.”

Also, Daniel makes an odd request to Liz involving eating habits. It’s at this point that the film gets a little gory and quite a bit weirder than the level of weirdness it was already at. A second note to self: What the hell is going on?

Actor/character credits run at the 100-minute mark. Three minutes later, yep, a new story.

Emma Stone in a scene from Kinds of Kindness. Photo: Searchlight Pictures

Plemons and Stone are now Andrew and Emily, researchers trying to find a person who can bring dead people back to life. They don’t eat fish, they drink a lot of water, and Emily has a husband and daughter who she walked out on.

Dafoe and Chau are back, now as Omi and Aka, who run an institute that might be a sex clinic or a religious retreat or something in between. Qualley plays blonde twins Martha and Rebecca.

This section of the film drags on and on, without much sense or interest. Puritanical cult note: an assertion is made that the practice of sex can result in the appearance of “contaminating fluids” and could lead to expulsion from the Omi-Aka-led community.

Does all of this come to a neatly wrapped conclusion? I’m not sure. I still don’t know what the hell was going on.

Ed Symkus is a Boston native and Emerson College graduate. He went to Woodstock, interviewed Amanda Palmer, Dan Hicks, Colin Farrell, and George Romero, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, the Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, Nantucket, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island, Capri, and the Isle of Wight with his wife Lisa.

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