Review: ‘Kinds of Kindness’ won’t win Yorgos Lanthimos any Oscars and is all the better for it

Review: ‘Kinds of Kindness’ won’t win Yorgos Lanthimos any Oscars and is all the better for it

The word unique is often overused to describe any movie that slightly contracts the Hollywood formula. But, cliche though it might be, we can’t think of a better way to describe Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinds of Kindness.

Lanthimos began his filmmaking career in Greece with highly abstract movies that explore the dark corners of human existence through the lenses of classic tragedy and morbid humor. Once Lanthimos crossed the ocean to spread his oddness in Hollywood, his popularity snowballed, with both The Favorite and Poor Things becoming critical and public successes.

Anyone who saw Poor Things knows Lanthimos hasn’t abandoned his love for the weird. Yet, his eccentricities were a little tamed in his Oscar-nominated movies, probably because he directed from other people’s scripts. Kinds of Kindness is Lanthimos’ return to form, as he takes over scriptwriting duties to craft a movie no one else could. While that will please long-term fans of the filmmaker, the general public is set for a shocking cinematic experience.

Kinds of Kindness is an anthology of three stories. There is a recurrent character to connect each section of the film, but the glue sticking everything together is thematic: all of Lanthimos’ deranged tales revolve around the titular kindness. While kindness is an easy concept to grasp, in Lanthimos’ hands, it becomes a powerful tool to dissect the human psyche.

As social animals, we are all, one way or another, looking for companionship, understanding, and community. In this context, kindness can become an instrument of control used to forge subconscious dependencies. So, while kindness is often viewed as a virtue, in Lanthimos’ latest, it becomes a mechanism of human socialization that frequently has perverse outcomes.

As surreal as the three stories in Kinds of Kindness are, Lanthimos maintains a tight grip on the thematic core, using its cast to explore the cruelty of emotional dependence. The film also has a cynical view of how acts of kindness can reveal a vulnerability others will be ready to exploit. Finally, for Lanthimos, kindness can also be used as a mask to hide the twisted desires of individuals willing to use others for their ends.

It would be easy to interpret Kinds of Kindness as favoring isolation and individuality, as the movie denounces the malice that permeates human relationships. Nevertheless, Lanthimos wouldn’t be one of the most relevant voices in cinema history if his message was that shallow. Yes, Lanthimos wants to deconstruct the idea that kindness is a universal value that must be defended at all costs. Still, with Kinds of Kindness, he shows how connections make life worthwhile, giving people meaning beyond their frail and temporary existence.

Image via Searchlight Pictures

Lanthimos packs so much in Kinds of Kindness that the movie asks for multiple views as the public slowly unpacks the many layers of its complex and contradictory exploration of human needs. That represents a massive change from the director’s most popular movies. The Favorite and Poor Things are filled with brilliant insights that will be better understood by those who take the time to watch these movies again. However, they offer a somewhat straightforward and satisfactory narrative from the first watch.

Kinds of Kindness, in its turn, is a work of art created to be debated and deconstructed scene by scene. None of its stories offers closure like Poor Things and The Favorite do. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this artistic choice. At the same time, it’s important to underline how Lanthimos’ approach to storytelling in Kinds of Kindness will unquestionably alienate part of his public. Plus, since Kinds of Kindness is Lanthimos’ longest film, clocking an impressive 165-minute runtime, not everyone will have the patience to watch it more than once.

Another aspect of Kinds of Kindness that will polarize the public comes from the movie’s intended humor. Lanthimos likes to create absurd situations and push them beyond every limit to force the audience to laugh, the only possible reaction to some of the unhinged imagery the director uses in his movies. The problem with Kinds of Kindness is that the events that unfold in its three chapters are so uncomfortable that the comedic coat of the narrative mainly misses the mark. Even when you identify a joke, it’s hard to find it funny, as the movie is constantly forcing you to reflect on unpalatable questions of sexuality, loneliness, self-love, and mental health.

Image via Searchlight Pictures

The reception of Kinds of Kindness will wildly vary depending on individual disposition toward unusual storytelling or Lanthimos’ style. Despite that, it’s also undeniable that he directs the heck out of every scene and Kinds of Kindness is a masterpiece filled with gorgeous shots. Lanthimos knows precisely when to zoom in and out of specific details in the set, guiding the vision with his confident direction, which helps grab the public’s attention despite the movie’s shortcomings.

Lanthimos is also a genius at squeezing every ounce of talent of an actor. Kinds of Kindness sees the return of Poor Things stars Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe, but also counts on the underrated talent of Jesse Plemons in one of his most impressive performances to date, which is saying a lot considering the star manages to leave an impression even when he has a short screen time – Civil War, I’m looking at you! 

Each story of Kinds of Kindness reuses the same core cast in different roles. Plemons, Stone, and Dafoe lead, giving life to wildly distinct characters each time the movie advances to a new chapter. They are supported by Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie, and Hunter Schafer – everyone has time to shine while they change clothes, hair, and body language to play different roles in all three stories.

Image via Searchlight Pictures

Lastly, Margaret Qualley also deserves special praise. Qualley is a fan-favorite actress for video game fans thanks to her role as Mama in Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, but no Hollywood production has imposed on Qualley the challenges Kinds of Kindness does. The fact that she excels should prove that she can tackle much more ambitious roles in the future.

Allied to Lanthimos’ careful craft, the cast helps elevate Kinds of Kindness and gives the average moviegoer a reason to dare themselves to watch something unusual. It would be a lie to say everyone can enjoy Kinds of Kindness equally. Still, those who overcome Lanthimos’ peculiarities will be rewarded with a profound discussion of human nature that will shake your core.

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