A know-before-you-go guide: Kinds of Kindness

With so many franchises, sequels and prequels arriving in theaters, we get accustomed to seeing familiar worlds and their predictable three-act structures. Then a three-hour theatrical release comes along that defies any simple explanation, and you have no idea what you’re getting into.

Kinds of Kindness is that kind of film. With a top-notch cast and director at the top of their game, it’s also a film you will be hearing about. We broke down the need-to-know before you decide to jump in.

What is the story?

A pitch-dark comedy anthology broken into three short films, Kinds of Kindness connects its disparate stories by pivoting around a mysterious character who goes by the initials R.M.F. — who is played by the film’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos. It helps to have loglines for each, as you might be scratching your head going in cold.

Searchlight Pictures

In the first story, Jesse Plemons plays Robert, a man who’s told to follow every order given to him by his controlling boss, including this one: crash his car at a specified intersection and kill a man, R.M.F., who has willingly decided to be killed.  When Robert refuses, his life begins to unravel.

In the next film, a police officer’s wife goes missing at sea, and ends up rescued by a helicopter, which is piloted by R.M.F.  He reunites the woman with her husband, but her “reversed behavior” raises his suspicions.

The third story introduces Emma Stone as Emily, who joins Plemons (this time as Andrew) in a cult that’s searching for a woman reputed to possess the power to resurrect the dead. Their quest for this elusive figure is complicated by Emily’s troubled history and the repeated failures of their pursuit.

The Watercooler Talk

Fresh off his Oscar nominations for Poor Things, the celebrated Greek writer-director Lanthimos reunites with Willem Dafoe and Emma Stone — who took home the Oscar this year for her role — and ups the ante by adding Plemons, Mamoudou Athie, Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, and Hong Chau.

Searchlight Pictures

Much like in his prior movies, Lanthimos explores the surreal and often unsettling dimensions of human behavior and social norms – or the lack of them. His films thwart expectations with stark, controlled environments and characters who engage in bizarre, often extreme behavior. He truly pushes the boundaries of storytelling.

According to the production notes, each of the three films was shot within a mere two weeks, a proof point of Lanthimos’s commitment to capturing raw, unfiltered narratives without relying heavily on CGI, elaborate costume designs, or prolonged editing periods.

What is it really about? 

At times, each of the stories can seem mystifying, as if purposely asking the audience to project their own ideas onto the narrative and come away with their own take. I came away with four big themes:

Mental Health – Each story in the anthology closes in on a character’s emotional state and how it’s influenced by the random, often outlandish events they find themselves in. When shocking things happen, each character’s mental health takes a hit, but not necessarily in a way you might expect.

Faith – The through-line character, R.M.F., shares some parallels with religious leaders, in his self sacrifice, his resurrection, and his role as a savior. But Kinds of Kindness is not just about religious faith. The stories ask what it means to have faith in oneself — and a deeper trust in others and in the world. Whether strong or shaky, each character’s faith influences their decisions and their path, with faith in this case representing what each character believes to be true.

Relationships – Family bonds, friendships, and fleeting encounters – they all impact the characters’ deeply, shaping their faith and emotions as they themselves shape others.

Mortality – From old age to staring down your own death to taking a life, each of the stories confronts mortality head on, and explores how death impacts people’s behaviors – before and after the fact.

Who Will Enjoy It?

If you’re a fan of dark, thought-provoking, often off-the-wall films like Lanthimos’ The Lobster and Poor Things, you’ll probably be intrigued by Kinds of Kindness. But if you’re squeamish about disturbing content like self-mutilation or gruesome scenes…this might not be your cup of tea.

Though the humor varies, the timing is spot-on for most of the film. Expect to either laugh out loud or be jaw-drop stunned by some of the more shocking scenes.

Why see it in theaters?
Searchlight Pictures

One compelling reason to see this one on the big screen is to witness its outstanding performances at the scale they were intended for. Actors such as Jesse Plemons (who earned a Cannes Best Actor award for his role here) and this year’s Oscar-winner Emma Stone both surrender to their roles with abandon. You will surely hear more about the film during awards season, and to truly process the scope of it, you’ll want to see it in theaters.

What are critics saying?

Reviews for Kinds of Kindness are a mixed bag. Adam Graham of the Detroit News felt the film went a bit overboard with the weirdness. He called it a “frustrating triptych” that seemed more interested in re-establishing Lanthimos’ “weirdo cred” than telling a cohesive story. I kind of agree with him on the third story; it pushed the strangeness factor a bit too far for me.

Amy Nicholson of the Los Angeles Times echoed the sentiment, suggesting the film’s nearly three-hour runtime didn’t reveal much beyond our own desire to give Lanthimos the benefit of the doubt.

But not everyone found the film off-putting. Clarisse Loughery of the Independent (UK) found the experience rewarding, comparing Kinds of Kindness to the director’s other works like The Favourite and Poor Things – “rich in ideas and aesthetics, but perhaps not for everyone.”

Dave Fear of Rolling Stone described the film as a “sideways parable” fueled by curiosity rather than cynicism, aligning it well with Lanthimos’ previous work. Fear thought it was “way more than the sum of its f-cked-up parts,” but also acknowledges its limited appeal.

Parental Guidance

Absolutely do not take the kids to this one! The movie is loaded with nudity and gore.

Worth Noting

The film was initially titled R.M.F and had multiple title changes before it landed on Kinds of Kindness.  As for what the letters stand for, it’s never explained. But it’s worth noting that Lanthimos’s R.M.F. is the only character who appears in all three stories.

Also: Stick around for a post-credit scene.

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