This one is for the true Lanthimites, the Dogtooth sisters, the biscuit women, The Killing of a Sacred Deer heads, a film to which the callbacks are so abundant that one can’t help but wonder what the connection is for writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-screenwriter Efthimis Filippou behind the scenes, outside of simply sharing tones and themes that all of their other films share. Regardless, the director as we knew him pre-Emma Stone is back (relatively speaking). And this time… with Emma Stone!

In his eighth feature, old and new Lanthimos merge, the former reflected in story scope, unreal realism, and bone-dry Greek comedy, all wrapped up in the much-felt return of Filippou, with whom he last wrote Sacred Deer just before he launched into the Hollywood stratosphere with Tony McNamara and The Favourite, the dawn of his Emma Stone collaboration-turned-creative-partnership. And the latter is reflected in, well, Emma Stone.

Kinds of Kindness makes for a fun feature anthology experiment in the realm of character, where you have a consistent cast––Jesse Plemons, Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Hong Chau, Margaret Qualley, Mamoudou Athie, and Joe Alwyn––playing characters across three stories so daintily connected that the actors – much like in Wes Anderson’s recent Roald Dahl shorts – can play completely different characters in each part and it doesn’t screw up a thing.

It’s split into three sections. In short, The 1) Death 2) Sandwich, and 3) Flight of the rarely seen R.M.F., a symbol of a character and nothing more. There’s little to glean between people across the three short stories, but there’s a loose theme to some of them, like Dafoe filling seats of power, Plemons taking lead roles, or Stone being obsessively pursued in one way or another.

As a whole, it suffers from anthology fatigue––the faint narrative exhaustion of starting over multiple times defined by the light but dispellable disinterest that sets in when one story ends and another begins, new characters and all, the impulse to care about the new ones left behind with the people we just got to know and have now abandoned for good.

Despite the inevitable anthology fatigue though, each section gets its hook in you pretty quickly. In the first, Plemons stakes out an intersection only to get hit by a car on purpose, the reason why soon-to-be confounding. In the second, Plemons’ wife is missing and he’s comically aloof on patrol as a cop, the chief complaining that he treated someone he pulled over for a ticket “like he fucked him and doesn’t know how to tell him he loves him.” In the third, we open on a wryly comic attempt to raise the dead and within no time we’re in a sex cult that believes in a particular unexplored essence of guru-blessed water.

The simple pleasures, or kindnesses, are abundant––in craft, at least. You don’t make a film with a single smacked piano key growing steadily faster and more horrific unless you’ve ventured, password in pocket, through the ornate orgiastic halls of an un-maskable secret society with the threat of death looming over your head and an insatiable lust beneath your cloak. In other words, Lanthimos’ repeated Eyes Wide Shut score reference glows with suspense. Other than the sheer tension in the Kubrickian piano strike, there’s the humor in desperation for a smashed McEnroe racket from 1984, the neat satisfaction of reading swiftly through a disciplined daily itinerary, and the cinematography throughout. 

Robbie Ryan, longtime Lanthimos collaborator, is spectacular as always, moody and tasteful, original and reflective, calling back to the then-vintage anamorphic blue streaks of, say, Punch-Drunk Love in 21st-century cinema and iterating on his own recent visual aesthetics with Lanthimos, Andrea Arnold, and Ken Loach, his most regular collaborators. On the other side of the spectrum, the film can be anything but kind. 

In story, the kindnesses on display are more like Tim Roth’s “kindnesses” in the bone-chilling Resurrection. Per the reunion with Filippou, the film is layered with the writing duo’s particular brand of stark disturbances: sudden, extreme violence, grotesque imagery, inconceivable ultimatums, sexual horror. And the dream sequences are delectable, Ryan piling them on between this and Bird in Cannes competition.

You can tell Lanthimos is still in stride with his main screenwriting partner with comedic lines only they could write a character to say, like “Skinny men are the most ridiculous thing there is,” or “her feet are bigger and softer for some reason,” or “Belly, together, OMI, feet,” or the arrival of a new cinematic cocktail: Emily’s Forehead, made with Grand Marnier, whiskey, and two drops of Angostura. 

The predicaments are equally funny and confounding. Take, for instance, a man whose wife is missing sitting at a dinner table, asking the couple they regularly have foursomes with if the three of them can watch one of the homemade videos they’ve shot. You know, to make him feel better about his wife missing. They tell him that sounds pretty awkward, and he cries them into submission, only to commandeer the remote and turn it up way too loud.

The costumes are terrific, the best being an oversized tan suit with sandals, wire-rimmed glasses, a buzz, and a denim button-down worn by the third iteration of Plemons. Above all, and certainly for better, this is a Jesse Plemons showcase, the actor putting his instinct for the screen on full display across three heavily depicted characters. Lanthimos has put together another dark, well-crafted delight, if not a slightly more forgettable one.

Kinds of Kindness premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival and opens June 21.

Grade: B

No more articles