‘Kinds of Kindness’ Review: A Remarkably Sour Film from Yorgos Lanthimos (Cannes)

Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos need each other. Through Ms. StoneMr. Lanthimos has an entry into Hollywood and the chance for his work to go mainstream worldwide, and through Mr. Lanthimos, Ms. Stone gets the art-house credibility usually denied to actresses whose careers began in teenage sex comedies. But just because they make quite a pair, that doesn’t mean the work they produce together is any good. 

It beggars belief that a movie that contains Willem Dafoe in bed wearing only eyeliner cannot be recommended, but Kinds of Kindness is neither sexy, enjoyable, nor good. Instead, it’s three short movies with a combined story of vicious hatred for women demonstrated through extreme contempt on top of physical and sexual violence. To be quite clear, Kinds of Kindness is a hateful and nasty movie, which its stylistic cleverness does nothing to redeem, and in a less misogynistic world, this would be the end of Ms. Stone’s collaborations with Mr. Lanthimos.

The three stories are loosely linked by a character known only as RMF (Yorgos Stefanakos). In the first, a man named Robert (Jesse Plemons), whose life – down to what he eats and when he sleeps with his wife Sarah (Hong Chau) – is controlled by his line manager Raymond (Mr. Dafoe), loses his job because he refuses Raymond’s request to kill somebody. In the second, a policeman (Mr. Plemons) ‘s wife was lost at sea, but when she (Ms. Stone) returns, the policeman becomes convinced that somehow she is not really his wife. In the third, a woman named Emily (Ms. Stonewho has abandoned her family to join a cult led by Mr. Dafoe and Ms. Chau goes on the hunt for a woman (Margaret Qualley) who is the subject of a pretty alarming prophecy. 

The smaller parts are played by Mamoudou Athie (who does as well as he can) and Joe Alwyn (who does not); in one section, Hunter Schafer also has a brief, largely nude cameo. And it’s almost impossible to explain how utterly hateful all three of these plots are, both separately and in combination. Ms. Qualley spends most of her time naked or self-harming; Ms. Stone spends most of her time self-harming or being viciously abusedMs. ChauMr. Alwyn and Mr. Athie are also there; and the different twisted interplay between Mr. Plemons and Mr. Dafoe leaves different sour tastes in the mouth. 

It’s remarkably sour, Kinds of Kindness. The opening credits are soundtracked to Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by The Eurythmics, which had the audience at the Cannes Film Festival cheerily dancing with anticipation in their seats. By the end, it felt like we’d popped a water balloon that was actually filled with urine. It is remarkably clear that Mr. Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthimis Filippou loathe women and chose to express that loathing by putting Ms. Stone and Ms. Qualley in various degrading situations, made worse by the script demanding us to believe these female characters would do these things to themselves. 

Why waste such talent, such crisply beautiful cinematography by Robbie Ryansuch layered music by Jerskin Fendrix, and such fine production design by Anthony Gasparro on such reductive, hateful images? Why does it so often happen that when a male director is handed carte blanche, he uses his golden ticket to express his hatred for the women in his life who helped him get there? 

Well, we know why. Male entitlement is a hell of a drug, but it’s not one the rest of us need take. Far better to let someone high on their own supply suffer the consequences of their comedown. The only good movies Mr. Lanthimos has made was when he was directing someone else’s script. If he keeps barfing his own disgusting thoughts onto our movie screens, he’s going to damage more careers than his own. 

Kinds of Kindness recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Learn more about the film at the Cannes Film Festival page for the title.

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