Kinds of Kindness Isn't Peak Yorgos Lanthimos But It Is Deviously Bleak Fun

Kinds of Kindness Film Image. Image Credit to Searchlight Pictures.
Kinds of Kindness Film Image. Image Credit to Searchlight Pictures. /

Towards the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, a downtrodden Frodo Baggins gets encouragement from best friend Samwise Gamgee through a now iconic speech. Said speech concludes with the hopeful statement "there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for." It’s a beautiful moment that actor Sean Astin perfectly delivers. No wonder it's become famous over the last two decades. With his new movie Kinds of Kindness, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted a refutation of Gamgee’s worldview. More specifically, Lanthimos has zoomed up on a moped, hopped off, taken a swig of vodka, and bellowed “you sure about that??” inches away from Gamgee's face.

In the three tales comprising Kinds of Kindness, there’s no goodness in this world. Just obsession-fueled debauchery all the way down. This is a super-sized version of past uber-bleak Lanthimos movies Alps and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Needless to say, Kinds of Kindness is an acquired taste. Yours truly found its dark humor often downright scrumptious.

Sreenwriters Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou give viewers not one but three different stories within Kinds of Kindness. Each contains the same seven principal cast members (Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, etc.) inhabiting different roles. The first, "The Death of R.M.F.", concerns Robert (Plemons) struggling to figure out his limits in what he'll do to appease his boss/lover Raymond (Dafoe). Second installment "R.M.F. is Flying" sees long-missing scientist Liz (Stone) returning home after being marooned on an island. Police officer husband Daniel (Plemons) is initially ecstatic before growing concerned. Third and final segment "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich" concerns cult members Emily (Emma Stone) and Andrew (Plemons) trying to appease the leaders of their disturbing group.

Plenty of chatter will emerge about Kinds of Kindness being an amplified version of quirks defining Yorgos Lanthimos’s films. However, this particular title fascinatingly evokes the thematic bedrock of two other famous filmmakers. The level of obsession and psychosexual tension fueling all three stories evokes Paul Schrader’s works. Meanwhile, Lanthimos has never before so closely aligned with David Lynch's proclivities. Having the same actors inhabit different roles channels the malleability of identity flowing through Lynch works Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive. Then there's the emphasis on dreams and their parallels to reality in all three tales. This facet correlates to the blurred (often erased) line between dreams and normal existence in so many Lynch masterpieces.

Evoking Schrader and Lynch is one trait instilling Kinds of Kindness a distinctive identity compared to other Lanthimos works. Make no mistake, though, this is most certainly a feature continuing the man’s thematic and visual fascinations. This includes the clinical and darkly farcical approach Lanthimos has to sex. Society’s emphasis on conformist romantic experiences was often a punchline in The Lobster. The possessive sexual attitude men wield towards women fueled the greatest jokes in Poor Things. Kinds of Kindness, meanwhile, wrings many enjoyably cringe-inducing gags out of sexual obsession or incredibly awkward physical encounters.

A close-up shot in the third story concerning Emily kissing the cult leader makes every pore of these two actors apparent. Their lips mashing together isn’t erotic or titillating. The extreme intimacy of the camera amusingly reinforces the exchange's transactional nature. In the second story, a frisky Liz trying to bed Daniel is extra amusing because it's all captured in an extended wide shot. An unblinking frame renders everything from Liz’s initial excitement to Daniel’s eventual annoyance and pain. These two moments perfectly distill the sharp visual instincts underpinning the unsexiness of sex in Kinds of Kindness. Sex and physical connection drives so many of these warped beings. These visual instincts reinforce how unhinged these obsessions truly are.

Kinds of Kindness gives one a lot to parse over. However, it also works so well as just an enjoyably sick creation to watch unfold in a theater. If you want a movie that'll make you involuntarily go "no!" or laugh in disbelief, this one's for you. Watching talented Oscar-nominated actors slurp up undesirable fluids, flail when covering up social blunders, or engage in inexplicable displays of extreme violence proves resiliently entertaining for 166 minutes. If laughing at Emma Stone dancing to a COBRAH song while an unconscious woman's body lingers in a wheelchair in the background, I don't want to be right.

It helps that the feature functions above all else as a great showcase for a talented ensemble cast. These performers are so committed to this unique freakishness. It’s hard to resist succumbing to the madness. That commitment emerges under the trademark understated line deliveries of Lanthimos movies. This quality creativity in the Kinds of Kindness actors to uncover quiet differentiation for each of their roles. Lanthimos fixture Emma Stone, for one, demonstrates subtle mastery injecting unique pieces of physicality into her three characters. It's mesmerizing watching her take the slightest vocal change and wring a new character out of that tweak.

Meanwhile, Plemons emerges as potentially the movie’s MVP portraying various portraits of wimpy modern masculinity. In the first segment especially, Plemons communicates compelling desperation that makes you squirm in your seat. You can feel the drops of sweat constantly spewing from his forehead. It’s a masterful turn that serves as only the beginning of what Plemons can do in Kinds of Kindness! Also, shout-out to Willem Dafoe in the third segment for rocking an outfit reminiscent of Mr. Boss's funeral attire in Smiling Friends.

The actors in Kindness are tremendously impactful. Composer Jerskin Fendrix (returning to collaborate with Lanthimos after their iconic work on Poor Things) also thrives in these unique cinematic confines. Much like his bombastic Poor Things tracks, Fendrix creatively delivers maximalist compositions for Kinds of Kindness. The primary musical motifs here sound like Gregorian chants and single atonal piano keys repeatedly going off. Such distinctive sonic elements function nicely as off-key and unsettling sounds for equally unnerving human beings. There are also enjoyable layers of dark humor in juxtaposing Fendrix’s tracks evoking the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack with bursts of disturbing behavior occurring in people’s suburban homes.

If there is an element of Kinds of Kindness that, unfortunately, holds back the proceedings, it’s the visuals. Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan (reuniting after collaborating The Favourite and Poor Things) deliver interesting visual motifs and images throughout Kinds of Kindness. Memorable recurring close-up shots of food (rendering the appetizing grotesque through claustrophobic camerawork) provide visual consistency through all three stories. Meanwhile, the third story very precisely utilizes wide shots to undercut the urgency of some of Emily’s actions. Her riding a purple hot rod at high speeds or desperately jumping occur in shots captured far away from the character. Such images emphasize the character’s tininess in the larger world. No matter how much noise she makes or how loud she revs up that engine, Emily is dwarfed by the larger world.

However, Lanthimos and Ryan often utilize more standard types of camerawork and blocking throughout Kinds of Kindness. That’s a strange flaw given how often Lanthimos movies embrace the dark comedy possibilities in executing outlandish scenarios in grandiose imagery. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, for instance, juxtaposed lavish tableaus straight out of an old painting with a messed-up revenge story. Too often, though, Kinds of Kindness opts for straightforward presentations of bleak gags or sexual desires. Additionally, the lack of visual variety in the three segments feels like a missed opportunity to cut loose with the possibilities of an anthology film. Even the fleeting use of Lanthimos’s beloved fish-eye lens don’t leave much of an impact here.

Additionally, viewers should know Kinds of Kindness especially loves to put its lady characters through the wringer. It’s understandable if some moviegoers walk away with quarrels regarding the third segment. Even in these warped confines, some folks will feel the tale crosses over into a tad too transgressive narrative territory. For me, I found that storytelling turn applicable to the overarching themes of the segment and the entire film. It’s a grotesque development, but one that has a function for a larger darker point beyond just immediate shock value. Because art is subjective (who knew???), others may of course feel differently. That’s what’s especially nifty about Kinds of Kindness, though. It’s an audacious effort bound to inspire different profound reactions in people.

In the greater context of the Yorgos Lanthimos canon, this latest feature isn’t as visually sumptuous as The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It's also inevitably nowhere anywhere near as good as his masterpiece Poor Things. However, this is another daringly creative and hysterically bleak Lanthimos movie. It especially excels as a showcase for its superb ensemble cast. Perhaps there is "good in this world", but you won't find it in any of these deranged performances. Many might dismiss this flawed but entertaining movie as “just for freaks”. Well, as a wise Green Goblin once crooned, “a freak like me needs company”. Luckily for Kinds of Kindness, I’m just the kind of freak who found the feature’s dark humor to be riotously good company.

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