What I am about to write will be bizarre. It will be strange and weird; it will be idiosyncratic if you like more elevated vocabulary. Your interest might be piqued by the odd words and sentences I am laying down. You will think, ‘where is he going with all of this?’ I’ll pause for a moment to let your inquisitiveness grow and then launch into another off beat or unconventional line of description. You will struggle to find the connective tissue in my ramblings. You’ll start to think ‘this is becoming tedious.’ But you will give me the benefit of the doubt because what I have written has some charm and humor to it. Yet when I cry wolf for the third time you will be exasperated or feel you are being toyed with, and you will conclude I have come up with nothing but a word salad—tossed about and consumed but not well digested.

Such was the progression of my thoughts when viewing a 2024 Cannes Film Festival selection titled Kinds of Kindness. The movie is divided into three segments with the only relation between them being the same actors (Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Wilem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau) in each portion. The three stories are independent of one another, though there is a Black Mirror vibe to each along with a Kubrickian-style sound track.

The first story deals with a control freak boss and an employee who defies him. The second depicts a police officer’s paranoia and rapidly crumbling grip on reality. The third follows a woman under the spell of a cult leader.

I’m sure the creators and those who want to look for a common thematic thread in the tree tales will be able to elucidate it, but I didn’t see any. Or, at least, I wasn’t intrigued enough to search for it.

Kinds of Kindness struck me as a nihilistic work, and a clever one at that. Clever but not good.

Permit some self indulgence. As I’ve been writing screenplays and writing about film for close to 30 years now, I’ve developed a way to look at movies. There will always be bad films, but when looking at good films, I divide even those into two categories; clever-good and good-good.

Kinds of Kindness is clever-good. It is inventive and amusing and entertaining but its cleverness is where it ends. The title and the content implies irony because the three stories are really about cruelty. But what specifically is the metaphor? I don’t know.

A good-good movie might have a clever structure and snappy dialogue and all the hallmarks of quality filmmaking, but it also has a strong underlying metaphor. Thus, E.T. is not a movie about a boy and an alien; it is about a broken family. The father has deserted the family, and the alien arrives to help those left behind become whole again. This is why E.T. departs in the end; because they don’t need him anymore. They have healed.

More recently, a film I enjoyed quite a bit was The Stranger. This was also a Cannes film, which played on Netlfix. This was an Australian picture about an ingenious plan police develop to solve a grisly child kidnapping-murder. It was based on a true crime of the same sort, and to my understanding it was considered a national tragedy. Thus, the movie continually references methods of breathing to reduce anxiety and expel harmful contaminates. This is a metaphor for Australia needing to solve this crime to expunge the stain the murder left on its psyche.

Kinds of Kindness is suffused with cleverness, but in the end it is not good-good. It relies too heavily on quirkiness to be of a higher caliber. There’s nothing wrong with quirkiness for its own sake, and the movie will keep viewers entertained. At two and a half hours, that is no easy chore these days, but in the end, the film will not be especially memorable.

The writer-director of Kinds of Kindness, Yorgos Lanthimos, is certainly known for less than typical stories. The Lobster and last year’s well received Poor Things (among an oeuvre of absurdist material) may constitute his style, and I did enjoy those two movies. But this go around the conceit is cloying and it frustrates me that he returns again and again to cleverness for its own sake rather than probing for something greater.

Perhaps he is of the belief that the sound and fury of life ‘signifies nothing,’ but I’m more optimistic. Moreso, rhetorically, I don’t want to have to begin a future review of a Lanthimos movie with a gobbledygook paragraph to make my point.


About The Author

Randy Steinberg has been a Blast film critic since 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Film/Screenwriting from Boston University. He taught screenwriting at BU from 1999-2010. In 2020, he joined the Boston Online Critics Film Association (BOFCA). Randy can be contacted at his website: www.RandySteinbergWriting.com

2 Responses

  1. uno online

    Kinds of Kindness is clever-good. It is inventive and amusing and entertaining but its cleverness is where it ends. This is a really helpful post. Thank you very much for sharing it for me and everyone to know.


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