‘Kinds of Kindness’ Review: Buckets of Cruelty… and Jokes!

Peter Paras reviews the absurdly funny Kinds of Kindness from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who equips his cruel comedy epic with a game cast and more.
User Rating: 7

As a follow-up to last year’s Oscar-winning Poor Things, Kinds of Kindness is longer (nearly three hours), meaner, but still very, very funny. Starring Emma Stone, fresh off her second Best Actress win, alongside Jesse Plemons, Margaret Qualley, and Willem Dafoe, director/co-writer Yargos Lanthimos presents a three-tale epic about devotion, cruelty, and blind faith. Re-teaming with writer Efthimis Filippou (The Lobster), tonally, this is the kind of twisted humor the Greek-born director was known for before the more Oscar-worthy (though still wonderfully weird) The Favourite and Poor Things. That said, is Kinds of Kindness more than just a return to what worked in the 2010s?

Starting with the least “weird” but still quite odd entry, “The Death of RMF” puts Plemons in the lead as Robert, a seemingly successful corporate professional in New Orleans (the city for all three segments) who wants nothing more than to prove his loyalty to his boss/mentor/father figure Raymond (Dafoe). For years, he’ll do whatever Raymond asks, but murder might be a bridge too far. Raymond has it all: wealth, status, a great parking spot, and a devoted, much younger partner played by Qualley, exclusively seen in various lingerie. Even Robert’s spouse Sarah (Hong Chau) seems to love Raymond. To top it off, RMF (Yorgos Stefanakos), aka the guy being murdered, wants to be killed. So what’s the problem?

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In many ways, all three stories exemplify the kind of absurd logic of Lanthomis’ earlier work. There’s a penchant for characters to take things perhaps too literally, and as a result, leads to their downfall. The second story, “RMF is Flying,” pits Plemons against Stone as a married couple with mucho distrust on the side of the husband. After her disappearance and sudden rescue, Daniel (Plemons) is convinced Rita (Stone) is not his wife but an imposter. While his friends Neil (Mamoudou Athie) and Sharon (Chau) try to convince him, Daniel sinks deeper and deeper into paranoia. The third tale, “RMF Eats a Sandwich,” follows  Stone’s Emily on a similar loyalty path, albeit more culty than Robert in the first story. Devotion is unquestioned. In the case of Emily finding “the chosen one” in Margaret Qualley’s Ruth, even the most skeptical person could become a blind follower.

Of course, anyone who’s seen one of Lanthimos’ films knows that no matter how dark the subject matter is or how queasy the outcome, his films are all dark comedies. He employs an if all else fails, laugh out loud kind of mantra. Often, especially with such a strong cast, the laughs come hard. At nearly three hours, I do wish the themes being explored went deeper, but you can’t argue with the production value, the score, and, again, the terrific cast of actors. Even a glorified cameo by Hunter Schafer proves memorable.

On the success meter, Kinds of Kindness rests squarely in the middle of “blank check” flicks. While the long run time works overall, having the stories told sequentially not interconnected à la P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia means there’s no conceivable way for the narratives to reach a fevered climax. (Not to mention an utter lack of frogs falling from the sky.) Still, Lanthimos is a far more assured filmmaker now than Robert David Mitchell made the masterful It Follows, only to follow it with the overlong, convoluted (yet kinda interesting?) Under the Silver Lake. Plus, I’ve only seen Kinds of Kindness once. Multiple viewings might help. Or not.

Visually, it’s a much subtler, though no less bold, experience to come after Poor Things. There might not be any huge dystopian landscapes or eccentric costumes to drink in, but there really are no generic compositions. Married with the cool needle drops like the 80s classic “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, the cinematography by Robbie Ryan (Poor Things) is quite cool, literally and figuratively. I tend to eye-roll overplayed music tracks, but nearly every song choice works here. And we get another Stone dance flex, so…

Getting solid performances from a talented ensemble is no easy feat. By now, Stone has proven herself to be quite versatile, but I was so happy to see an A-level talent like Plemons getting time to shine, especially in the first story. Qualley, once again, proves that acting is not just good dialogue readings. Even when unconscious, her physicality is still somehow human and very funny. Dafoe embodies two very different kinds of authority figures and finds wholly different unpleasant ways to channel the creepier impulses of men with too much power.

At first glance, Kinds of Kindness is a solid, if not incredible, entry in the Yorgos Lanthimos catalog. Still, a merely “good” film by the Greek-born filmmaker is superior to about 95% of the directors working today. Come for the cult, stay for the jokes.

Kinds of Kindness opens in wide release June 28, 2024.

Written by
Peter Paras is pop culture writer who has been reviewing films for the past fifteen years. Raised in Chicago—but an Angeleno since the start of 21st century—he has plenty to say about films, television, videogames, and the occasional YouTube channel. He’s a frequent guest on Out Now with Aaron and Abe, as well as TV Campfire Podcast. His work has been published at Why So Blu, Game Revolution and E! Online. His favorites include: Sunset Blvd, Step Up 2 The Streets, Hackers, Paris Is Burning, both installments of The Last of Us, Destiny 2, and Frasier.

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