Kinds of Kindness

When R.M.F (Yorgos Stefanakos, "Poor Things") is hired by Vivian (Margaret Qualley, "Poor Things"), a rich man’s wife, to willingly be killed in a car crash in the first of a triptych of stories, we don’t expect to see him in the last, but he is the one constant character in cowriter (with "Dogtooth's" Efthimis Filippou)/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ ("The Lobster," "Poor Things") “Kinds of Kindness.”

Laura's Review: C+

Back in 2009, when Yorgos Lanthimos broke out with “Doghouse,” the Greek film was certainly art house fare as well as pretty dark and plenty weird, but it wasn’t that difficult to figure out what the filmmaker was getting at and it introduced an exciting new cinematic voice to U.S. audiences.  With his latest, a reunion of all but one of his main “Poor Things” cast along with “The Favourite’s” Joe Alwyn and newcomers to the Lanthimos world Jesse Plemons (“Civil War”), Hong Chau (“The Whale”) and “The Burial’s” Mamoudou Athie, he falls back on the pretty dark and plenty weird, sometimes pretty hilariously. But after the first story, Lanthimos’s themes about control and the need for love and belonging become increasingly difficult to care about, his characters’ cruelty and deadpan delivery ostracizing.  At least “Kinds of Kindness” is never boring, quite the feat given its 165 minute running time, but I for one doubt I’ll ever want to watch it again. 

In ‘The Death of R.M.F.,” Plemons is Robert, a man who lives in a meticulously appointed home with his wife Sarah (Chau).  She’s thrilled with the latest gift they’ve received from Raymond (Dafoe), Robert’s boss, who has sent them one of John McEnroe’s smashed tennis rackets encased in a Lucite box.  We’ll learn that she does not know that their marriage, home, car and childless state are all also ‘gifts’ from Raymond who has been controlling every aspect of Robert’s life from the socks that he wears to the what he eats, drinks and reads for the past 10 years.  But now Raymond wants Robert to crash into R.M.F. at a specific intersection at high speed, killing the man and when Robert finds he cannot do it, Raymond rejects him and Robert’s world unravels.  Then he meets Rita (Emma Stone, "The Favourite," "Poor Things"), his replacement, and jealousy and his need for Raymond’s approval overtake his misgivings about causing another man’s death.

‘R.M.F. Is Flying’ features the film’s biggest, most unexpected laugh but has a far less logical narrative.  Now Plemons is a police officer named Daniel whose wife Liz’s research team has disappeared in the field.  After commiserating with their best friends Neil (Athie), also his partner, and Martha (Qualley), as well as Liz’s colleague’s wife Sharon (Chau), Daniel is overjoyed when Liz and Sharon’s grievously injured husband are found alive.  But Daniel’s dinner guests Neil and Martha had pointedly arrived with a chocolate cake to indulge in in Liz’s absence as she dislikes chocolate, so when Liz finds it in the refrigerator and eats the whole thing, Daniel begins to suspect she is not his wife and asks her to do increasingly bizarre things – like chop off a finger and serve it to him with cauliflower.  One can surmise that this is some bizarre ritual to prove one’s love (as well as continuing the control theme), but the way Lanthimos ends the tale obfuscates the entire thing.  A dream Liz had during her desert island ordeal about dogs having taken over the social order while being kind to people is featured as this segment’s credit roll-out and it’s a charmer.

‘R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich’ finds Stone and Plemons paired again, this time as Emily and Andrew, members of a sex cult run by Omi (Dafoe) and Aka (Chau), out on a mission to find someone with the power to raise the dead.  After their first candidate, Anna (Hunter Schafer, TV's 'Euphoria'), fails the test in an oddly cooperative morgue, Emily relates a dream to Andrew where a pair of twin sisters (Qualley) rescue her from the bottom of a pool and decides she’s had a vision of ‘the one.’  Her mission will go horribly awry because of something awful done by her desperate husband Joseph (Alwyn) and her own penchant for speeding in a purple muscle car.  This one features another droll credit roll out.

While Stone once again gets to display funky dance moves, this Lanthimos outing is unlikely to win her an Oscar, her characters ranging from submissive to aggressive yet all lacking any kind of personality, at least one we can relate to.  Plemons fairs a bit better, especially in the first tale, but his behavior goes from one extreme to the other and back again in the second and he’s largely a tag along in the third.  Dafoe and Chau both create very different characters in each of the three outings while Qualley fails to make much of an impression.

Jennifer Johnson’s (“I, Tonya,” “Blonde”) costume design, on the other hand, goes a long way towards distinguishing these characters, from Robert’s colorful turtleneck and dark suit combos to Vivian’s short silk kimono to Emily and Arthur’s pantsuits paired with boho sandals.  Cinematographer Robbie Ryan ("Poor Things") employs a simpler shooting style than the last film, occasionally utilizing black and white for more fantastical sequences, like dreams.  "Poor Things'" Jerskin Fendrix contributes a piano score studded with jarring chords and a choir.  And while the film may not be to all tastes, even for fans of Lanthimos, his signature use of multiple animals, aberrant sex and power dynamics are all on display here.

Searchlight Pictures releases "Kinds of Kindness" in select theaters on 6/21/24, opening wider on 6/28/24.