Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Screenwriter: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou Cast: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer Distributor: Searchlight Pictures Running Time: 164 min. MPAA: R

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For as charmingly wondrous as Poor Thing was, Kinds of Kindness finds director Yorgos Lanthimos returning to his wild roots (and not simply because he’s reunited with co-writer Efthimis Filippou). His latest absurdist picture with comedy so black its charred to crisp cavorts in a manner with great freedom. It’s an anthology with the same actors in each segments and similar themes but presented in the most unexpected ways. What Lathimos serves up is a smorgasbord of compelling human drama with surreal flashes of twists so visceral it’s impossible not feel a laugh at the dancing or a wince at chopped off body parts.

The film is an anthology of three short stories presenting a painful desire for love in various forms. When Jesse Plemons plays the businessman Robert Fletcher, he is obedient to the whims of a richer man (Willem Dafoe) and disgraced when he isn’t willing to go the extra mile of cruelty for a chance at a threeway. When Emma Stone plays the rescued wife Liz, she tries to be the best wife by going to extreme measures with cooking, crossing that line of inhumanity with hardly a blink. Margaret Qualley will literally throw herself to whims of others when playing identical twins Ruth and Rebecca, bound by the prophecy of a cult. And somewhere within each story Yorgos Stefanakos as RMF, a silent figure who is either a victim, co-worker, or nobody.

Lathimos boils each narrative with intrigue, only to add a stick of dynamite into the story in case it wasn’t weird enough. The first story proceeds the most believably for a man being bound by his employer for ever facet of his life, but the creepy turn it takes with manipulation and murder gets under the skin. But the bizarre twists of the second story’s rescue of a police officer’s wife grows so psychologically weird and physically gross that a laugh or wince depends entirely on how quickly your jaw can be lifted off the floor. By the time the third story arrives, anything can happen and pretty much does, finding the darkest routes to go down and asking how likely you are to laugh at Emma Stone’s dance after enduring and doling out much cruelty.

This picture explores many themes, but probably the most compelling is how nearly all of them revolve around polyamorous relationships. The first story is all about somebody desperate to get into one, the second to maintain one, and the third being forced out of one. There’s an almost admirable level of devotion to finding individual happiness within these relationships, where manipulation and control feel almost essential to grip onto that passion. It’s more than just good sex; it’s about wanting to feel that sensation that you belong. It’s why some of the most tender moments are when Dafoe snuggles with Plemmons, rewarding his efforts with the dominance he asserts.

It’s that cloying vibe that coats the drive of these characters to beg for entrance into something greater. More importantly, the sacrifice is an immense one considering so much of these relationships are born from a desire to escape the dead nature of simplistic marriages. That desire is treated with empathy considering the mundanity and abuse that is experienced through what societally be deemed a normal heterosexual relationship. The fantastical territory these stories lead towards is treated with a level of ambiguity that almost wills itself into their lives for a forced level of comfort. The fear of being wrong and feeling like you’re losing control oozes with so much anxiety that it doesn’t matter if the second story’s doppleganger theory or the third story’s cult philosophies are correct. What matters is that these characters become so desperate and pathetic the audience may be willing to go along with something so absurd.

Kinds of Kindness is all kinds of messed up in the most beautiful and bombastic ways possible. It veers so hard into fucked up territory that the audience can practically hear the tires burning the road. It’s unapologetically blunt and brutal, charging ahead unapologetically with its tense piano soundtrack and occasional record drop when absurdity strikes hot. It’s all so mesmerizingly wild that if Poor Things was your cup of tea, then this film is like a flight of fine whiskeys. Lathimos’s confidence is still riding high after his previous film, still ready and willing to push limits and provoke with movies that feel more unpredictable, unrestrained, and unbelievably conceived than anything else gracing the cinema.

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